Former Firefighter Is Denied Attorney Fees

Times Staff Writer

A former Ventura County firefighter has lost her bid to collect $371,000 in attorneys' fees stemming from a discrimination lawsuit she brought against her supervisor and the county Fire Department.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Lane denied the fee request by lawyers for Anne Merino, ruling this week that the demand for payment was unsubstantiated and unreasonable.

Following a two-week civil trial, a jury in July ruled that the Ventura County Fire Department had subjected Merino to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender.

But jurors cleared her male supervisor of wrongdoing and awarded Merino only a fraction of the damages she sought -- a little more than $28,000. The award was well short of a $250,000 settlement offer county lawyers said they made three months before trial.

Lane cited the proposed settlement in her 16-page ruling. She said because the jury award was significantly less than the county's offer, the Fire Department was in essence the "prevailing party" in the legal action.

As a result, the judge ruled that the county was entitled to recover $19,000 in costs associated with defending itself and ordered that amount subtracted from the $28,000 that Merino had been awarded by the jury.

One of 16 female firefighters in the 440-member department when the lawsuit was brought in 2001, Merino sued her employer and supervisor, Capt. Damon Dalton, for allegedly subjecting her to a hostile workplace.

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