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Former Marietta firefighter suing department, city for gender discrimination

Margaret Richardson says former fire chief created an atmosphere of bullying, bigotry and racism.

MARIETTA, Ga. -- A former city firefighter is suing the Marietta Fire Department and the city itself, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.

Margaret Richardson filed the lawsuit in January 2018 against former Fire Chief Jackie Gibbs, who retired in December 2017 after a 40-year career made him the city's longest-serving employee.

In the lawsuit, Richardson said the Marietta Fire Department violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In a 2014 letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Richardson said Gibbs created an environment of "pervasive bullying, bigotry, and favoritism."

"I can give numerous accounts in which I was personally involved," her letter said, "situations that include a range of behaviors from name calling -- he often refers to female firefighters as lesbians -- to outright extreme aggression and threats."

"Chief Gibbs creates an incredibly hostile work environment that has impacted large numbers of staff at all ranks. His behavior is volatile and he regularly deploys yelling and ridicule as management tools. Furthermore, he has encouraged the senior staff to follow suit and has given them free reign to play favoritism and engage in discriminatory or unethical practices."

Richardson joined the department in 1997 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2007. The lawsuit alleges Richardson's supervisor "routinely made comments that a woman should not be in the service, hit her, mocked her, gave her offensive and inappropriate gifts, and addressed her complaints with dismissive actions."

Richardson reported the actions in 2009, and the lawsuit claims her supervisor "laughed at her and dismissed her complaints as being too serious."

Richardson followed up with reports to Gibbs, who, according to the lawsuit, called her a liar.

"He blamed her for the hostility," the lawsuit said. "She was threatened with 'severe consequences' if she had any more 'hysterical outbursts.'"

"The environment in the Marietta Fire Department is one of pervasive bullying, bigotry and favoritism, and it has taken an emotional, mental, and physical toll on the men and women here," Richardson wrote in her letter to the employment commission. "Our attempts to gain fair and equitable treatment have failed and I am requesting that your agency take a closer look and possibly help us find a solution."

11Alive has reached out to the city of Marietta and has yet to hear a response.

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