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Clearwater to pay ex-firefighter $75K in settlement

CLEARWATER — A former Clearwater firefighter has settled her lawsuit with the city over a sex discrimination charge leveled against the fire chief.

Lt. Wendy Cason, a 20-year veteran and at the time the city's highest-ranking female firefighter, will receive $74,999, according to Pam Akin, Clearwater's attorney.

Akin said the city isn't acknowledging any wrongdoing. She said it makes more fiscal sense to settle than go ahead with a scheduled August trial.

Cason, who retired from the department in May 2007, referred comments to her attorney.

"Wendy Cason is very pleased with the settlement and she thinks the amount indicates that the city realizes that she was treated unlawfully," Ryan Barack said. "Lt. Cason continues to believe that there are problems at the highest levels of the Clearwater Fire Department, and she is hopeful that city leaders will continue to evaluate whether or not Jamie Geer should be fire chief."

Cason said Geer discriminated against her when he didn't allow her to take a makeup test when she missed an examination required for a promotion to district chief. A male firefighter who was also absent was allowed to take a makeup test.

Cason filed the discrimination claim against the Fire Department in December 2005.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission substantiated Cason's claim, saying the city "had a liberal practice for allowing makeup examinations and that (Cason) did provide an adequate excuse for her absence during the initial test."

The city hired the law firm of Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing for $37,000 as its representative in the matter.

George Cretekos, Clearwater's vice mayor, said the city's staff was "very confident that we could and would have prevailed" if the matter had proceeded to trial.

"But the council felt for the financial situation, it was in the best interest to settle," Cretekos said.

Council member John Doran agreed and said the City Council is always monitoring to ensure that city polices are being followed.

"We do that on a regular basis," Doran said. "If someone would in fact look at what's happened over the last couple of years, I believe there has been some systematic changes."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Clearwater to pay ex-firefighter $75K in settlement 07/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 5:00pm]
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