Tania Clayton, 31, was victimised by male colleagues in a "deeply ingrained" anti-female culture where she was called "tart" and "stupid fucking cow", while being ordered to make tea for firemen. When her case came before an industrial tribunal in 1994, the Hereford and Worcester Fire Service was condemned for the "most appalling discrimination".
Ms Clayton, who now lives with her parents in Wiltshire, joined the Blue Watch, Hereford, in 1989 after five years' exemplary service in the Women's Royal Army Corps.
She served under sub-officer Ronald East, who routinely victimised her in front of male colleagues and advised her to get a job in a kitchen, the tribunal was told. In June 1990, she transferred to Worcester but two years later returned to Hereford, this time assigned to Green Watch, where the harassment resumed.
In one incident she was forced to sit on a turntable ladder 100ft in the air and spun round for more than an hour, in an attempt to break her confidence. Yesterday, after 90 minutes' negotiation in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, her legal team agreed the settlement with the local authority.
Ms Clayton, who blamed the collapse of her marriage on the trauma, said she was relieved her ordeal was over: "It has not really sunk in yet, but it was horrible returning to the place where I won my case. I cannot really recall any specific incident which occurred in the force which drove me out. It was a combination of everything - a sort of wearing-down process."
Ms Clayton hoped her huge settlement - the largest non- military settlement awarded - would make other authorities think twice before allowing sexual discrimination within their fire brigades.
Kevin McNamara, a spokes-man for Hereford and Worcester County Council, said: "This has been a difficult and long-running process for both sides. Lessons needed to be learnt and new management at the top of our fire service has ensured that the brigade has not stood still."
Janet Gaymer, head of employment law for solicitors Simmons and Simmons, said: "This woman has suffered harassment for five years and the settlement obviously reflects the time she had to endure the bullying.
"In sexual harassment cases, tribunals tend to award aggravated damages, mirroring the mental and physical distress caused to the individual."
Ms Clayton, who is still unemployed since leaving the force in March 1994, has received treatment for depression resulting from the ordeal. She said: "I just want to get a place of my own with a garden where I can spend some time with my Staffordshire bull terrier, George, and sort out my life."
John Gordon, her Fire Brigade Union representative, said: "This is a victory tinged with sadness, Tania's life has been devastated. The message from the FBU to employers is that this kind of despicable behaviour will not be tolerated and must be stopped.
"She has lost her marriage, her health and her livelihood and it was a very reasonable claim in the circumstances."
The average payout for a discrimination case in the workplace is about pounds 4,000. But after the pounds 11,000 statutory limit was removed in 1995, awards have been higher.
In 1981, Helen Bamber a Euro-bond dealer received pounds 81,000 from a Japanese company for sexual discrimination after discovering she earned pounds 127,000 less than her male colleagues.Reuse content