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Orland firefighter alleges sex discrimination

(MCT) — A veteran firefighter has filed a complaint against the Orland Fire Protection District alleging that her gender made her a target for discrimination and retaliation in the department.

Lt. Terri Simone-Lorenz, one of few women among the district's more than 100 firefighters, alleges in a six-count complaint that she has dealt with gender discrimination and a hostile work environment for most of her employment with the Fire District.

The district's attorney, James Roche, said Wednesday that it "vehemently denies the allegations contained in the complaint and looks forward to our day in court."

The amended complaint was filed this week as part of a lawsuit in Cook County court. The suit, filed in October, names several members of the district's command staff, including Battalion Chief Raymond Kay.

Kay served as acting fire chief for more than a year after pornography was found on a district computer, which led to an investigation of former Fire Chief Bryant Krizik. Krizik retired in 2011 and maintained he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

The complaint amended Tuesday alleges pornographic materials were left in the women's bathroom, and derogatory comments and sexual rumors about Simone-Lorenz were circulated.

"She has complained on numerous occasions," said her attorney Dana Kurtz. "The district has done nothing in response, has done no investigation into any of the conduct or taken any steps to remedy it."

Simone-Lorenz also alleges that she was unfairly singled out by her superiors on training drills, and that her superiors shunned and ostracized her while encouraging others to do the same, "which for a firefighter can be a safety issue," the complaint said. When she objected to the work conditions, her superiors began looking for reasons to fire her, the lawsuit said.

Roche denied claims of retaliation against Simone-Lorenz and said that's evidenced by the fact that she still holds the same position with the same pay in the district.

"I don't have any clue what the retaliation could possibly be," he said. "She gets all the benefits and rights exactly as everybody else does."

The complaint also alleges that retaliation against her was politically motivated due to her union affiliation under a new Fire District administration.

Simone-Lorenz and the district have had issues previously.

After internal charges were filed against her in 2011 for several issues, including allegedly making an obscene gesture to a co-worker while off duty, she appealed the disciplinary measures of a two-day suspension and a written reprimand.

An arbitrator in 2012 ruled that the district did not have just cause for the disciplinary measures. Simone-Lorenz then filed a charge of discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

In July, the department dismissed the claims for "lack of substantial evidence." The Fire District's attorney said he is confident the state court system "will make the same determination."

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