Lesbian Firefighter Wins Discrimination Suit After Being Spit On, Called “Lesbo”

Lori Franchina once had the brain matter of a suicide victim flung at her by a member of her own squadron.

A Rhode Island firefighter has finally found justice after being harassed and discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

A federal appeals court ruled this week that Lori Franchina was indeed a victim of sexual harassment under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The three-judge panel heard how, while a member of the Providence Fire Department, Franchina was shoved, spit on, and called names like “lesbo” and “bitch.”

In one instance, a fellow firefighter flung a suicide victim’s blood and brain matter at her.

“The abuse Lori Franchina suffered at the hand of the Providence Fire Department is nothing short of abhorrent,” the judges wrote. “Employers should be cautioned that turning a blind eye to blatant discrimination does not generally fare well under anti-discrimination laws like Title VII.”

Franchina retired on disability after being diagnosed with PTSD stemming from the abuse. In addition to upholding her $806,000 settlement, the verdict helps to establish that Title VII applies to sexual orientation, something federal courts have been divided on.

Last April, a federal appeals court agreed that anti-LGBT bias “is a form of sex discrimination” in a case involving a college teacher denied promotion because she was a lesbian. But just a month later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions insisted that “the essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex.”

“Sexual orientation discrimination,” he claimed, “simply does not have that effect.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.