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Regional News

Jury Award for Pullman Firefighters Overturned

A former Pullman fire department captain and several of his supporters have lost a bitterly contested legal fight with the city after a federal judge took the unusual step of overturning a jury verdict for them.

The issues for fire captain Eric Reiber began in 2008 when he counseled a probationary woman firefighter against spending too much time with a male colleague. She in turn complained to Reiber's superiors that he created a hostile work environment.

The dispute escalated into several investigations by the fire chief and city officials, and when several firefighters filed statements supporting Reiber, the city called in an outside investigating firm.

After the Pullman fire chief demoted Reiber and suspended his supporters, they sued the city, claiming they suffered retaliation for opposing what they called a corrupt and contrived sexual harassment investigation.

A jury in Spokane agreed with Reiber and his group, and awarded them a million dollars in damages. But the trial judge overturned the verdict, finding that the facts did not show violations of federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

The rulings for the city of Pullman and its fire department have been upheld by a panel of three federal appeals judges, but only by the narrowest of margins - 2 to 1.

Whether Reiber's lawyers will ask the full appeals court to hear- and possibly overturn - the split verdict has not been decided yet.

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