Jury Awards Suburban Female Firefighter $11.2 Million In Damages In Suit Against County Club Hills

Lisa Fielding
October 30, 2018 - 2:08 pm

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Dena Lewis said she knew from day one on the job back in 1998 that she may run into trouble as the city's first female firefighter.

"I knew right a way it wasn't going to be good. I just thought I could handle it," she recalls.

In 2012, she sued the city for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. A jury agreed with her claims and awarded her more than $11 million in damages.

"I'm still shaking. I'm somewhere between tears and laughter. It's over with. I think I'm giddy," she said.

Lewis said she also was passed over for promotions, and later was suspended for complaining too loud about sexual harassment. She also claimed her male counterparts routinely watched porn during company time and on company computers.

"After every time she complained, she was disciplined by the Chief Agpawa. The Mayor knew about it. There was evidence of pornography in the workplace they tried to cover that up as well and tired to destroy it. A computer science expert found some evidence of the pornography, found some evidence of the document destruction despite a court order to preserve it," said Dana Kurtz, Lewis' attorney.

Lewis said the firefighters discriminated against her for being a woman. When she threatened to sue, Kurz said her colleagues and superiors turned against her.

"It's been 6 1/2 years that she's been fighting this case with coverup and corruption and destroying documents, hiding documents, ongoing retaliation," Kurtz said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Lewis said over the years, there were many times she considered giving up on her lawsuit.

"I was really questioning whether this was worth it. This is my career and this is what I love and they took it away. They were ugly, they were gunning for my career," Lewis said.

Lewis said firefighting is in her family. Her father, her grandfather and several uncles are firefighters.

"It's all I know. I love it. I've been playing in the firehouse since I was 4. I probably knew how to pump an engine since I was 8," she said.

Lewis hopes her suit will set an example for others who've endured what she has.

"Anyone can be retaliated against. This isn't good. Someone, somewhere will stand up. If I can do it, anybody can do it. I hope that someone takes the message that you can do this, you don't have to put up with this, this is wrong and these people can't keep getting away with this kind of behavior," she said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"We've been fighting this battle for a very long time and she's done this to stand up for women in the fire service," Kurtz said. "This job was a legacy for her. One day she wanted to become a fire chief and the city of Country Club Hills destroyed that dream and the jury saw through their lies, their corruption and coverup."

Lewis has been on paid administrative leave since 2015. She said she's unsure about her future or whether she'll return to firefighting.

WBBM Newsradio has reached out to the city of Country Club Hills for comment.