Female firefighter awarded $11M in sexual harassment lawsuit

COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, Ill. -- A Cook County jury awarded a female firefighter over $11 million in her sexual harassment lawsuit against her former department.

Dena Lewis sued Country Club Hills for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.

She started working for the fire department there in 1998. She has been on paid administrative leave since 2015.

“We hope that this verdict will encourage women in the fire service to stand up and speak out against discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation and to break through the fire wall that exists in this and many other departments,” her attorney Dana Kurtz said.

Lewis said when she reported hostility and sexual harassment at the firehouse to her supervisor, things only got worse.

"From that, for them to come at me with write-up after write-up after write-up, suspension after suspension, I knew it was my job," said Lewis.

Lewis says the Country Club Hills firehouse was a hostile environment. She says her co-workers would openly watch pornography there.

Her lawsuit alleges male firefighters making lewd comments at her and broke down a shower door where she was bathing.

After complaining, Lewis said her supervisors suspended her. She said she was also denied promotions and training.

"It's been six and a half years of fighting this case," said Kurtz. "With cover-up and corruption and destroying documents...every time she complained, she was disciplined."

The unanimous jury verdict came after a two week trial.

"I was really questioning if this was worth it. This is my career. This is what I love, and they took it away. And they were ugly with taking it away," said Lewis.

Country Club Hills has not commented on the award.