A former Richmond, B.C., firefighter who says she was harassed out of her job is now fighting to return to work.
Teresa Rush is one of six female firefighters who independently left their workplaces in 2006, complaining of sexual harassment by male colleagues.
The city eventually adopted new policies, installed new facilities and hired management, transforming the fire department’s workplace atmosphere.
But now, five years later, Rush has been fired and has only dim hopes of getting back into the fire department.
She vividly remembers the difficulties she endured prior to her leaving her firefighting job.
“I'd be sitting there eating my lunch and someone would flip the channel over to hard-core porn and everybody would look at me, and, ‘Let’s see her reaction,’” Rush told CBC News.
Another female firefighter reported that human feces was left in her boots, while another was stalked by a male colleague.
Rush said she was harassed for refusing to share a personal sex story as part of a hazing ritual.
“It’s intimidating when you’re in a firehall, in a dorm, and you're sleeping in single beds and you’re five feet from each other and this is the kind of environment,” said Rush. “You don’t feel safe.”
Eventually Rush broke down under the harassing pressure, went off sick and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
With so many women afraid to go back to work, the city launched a sweeping investigation into the department, culminating in a damning report later in 2006.
Richmond has recruited six female firefighters, in addition to the four other women who work in different areas of the department.
Women's washrooms and change rooms have also been installed in all of the city’s firehalls and training sessions have been held to improve respect in the workplace.
“I would like to go back to my old job in fire prevention,” said Rush.
According to documents from a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case initiated by Rush, the city tried to find her a job outside the fire department at her doctor's request. But the city said Rush delayed discussions repeatedly and by the time she was ready to return to work, there was only one vacancy she was qualified for.
“All they could come up with is a building service position, which is essentially a janitor position,” she said.
Rush said it paid about half of her firefighter’s salary, and if she took the job, she'd have lost her pension and seniority.
“I was fired in June because I didn’t take the janitor position,” she said.
Tribunal rules in city's favour
In September, the tribunal ruled Richmond's offer to Rush was reasonable.
Rush said she was then denied workers compensation because she applied too late.
“I don’t have a top notch legal department in my back pocket,” she said.
Now, armed with a new doctor’s recommendation saying she can work in fire prevention, Rush said her only hope is if her union will fight her firing.
“For them to fire me because I have post-traumatic stress disorder is wrong,” she said.
But Rush admits she may have run out of time and options.
“I don’t think [the union] will help me now, but anything’s worth a shot."
The firefighters’ union has not yet responded to CBC News’ requests for comment on Rush’s case.