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Female firefighter awarded $1.7 million in sexual harassment lawsuit

A woman brought a sexual harassment case after she was fired as an Orange Township firefighter and was awarded more than $1.7 million in damages.

Raechel Sterud, 32, sued the Delaware County township and her supervising lieutenant, Keith Myers, in 2010, alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

After a trial, a jury agreed, voting that she was fired in 2007 because of her sex and gender and that Myers acted "with actual malice" in recommending her termination.

The jurors returned a judgment of $1.67 million against the township and $75,000 against Myers.

"The verdict represents vindication for (Sterud)," her attorney, Daniel Mordarski said yesterday. "She's been waiting for five years for a jury to look at all the facts and indicate that what happened was wrong."

If the judge determines that it is safe for her to return to the fire department, where those involved with the harassment and termination are still working, she would not receive the largest part of the judgment - $779,702 in future wages.

Robert Quigley, chairman of the Orange Township board of trustees, said the township has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Sterud was hired as a full-time firefighter by the township in January 2007 and was fired two weeks before her one-year probationary period was to expire.

In her lawsuit, she said that a male firefighter began sexually harassing her immediately after transferring to her unit and that Myers didn't act on her complaints.

Evidence in the case included an email in which a firefighter warned Myers that Sterud planned to file a formal complaint once she left probation and became a member of the firefighter's union.

Testimony at the trial showed that township firefighters were shown sexual-harassment training videos on a split screen so they also could watch a NASCAR race.

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