Fire department settles harassment and retaliation case for nearly $500,000
Posted February 2, 2012
A California fire department will pay $494,150 and implement widespread anti-harassment training to settle federal charges of discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced January 31.
A firefighter/engineer employed by the department since 1986 filed an EEOC discrimination charge initially in 2007, alleging that he was continually harassed by fellow firefighters at his station who used deeply offensive comments of a sexual and religious nature. An EEOC investigation uncovered that the harassment, which began in late 2006, appeared linked to a lawsuit filed against the Catholic Church by the man regarding sexual abuse he suffered by a priest. Several coworkers mocked the firefighter for the lawsuit against the church, using explicit and offensive religious and sexual epithets. Although the employee complained about the harassment to management officials, the EEOC investigation found that the department failed to adequately halt or address it. Further, the investigation found that the employee had suffered retaliatory discipline for his participation in another equal employment opportunity investigation.
Following a determination by the EEOC that there was reasonable cause to believe a violation of law occurred, the fire department entered into a three-year conciliation agreement with the EEOC and the employee, who was represented by private counsel. The agreement effectively settles the case administratively, thereby avoiding litigation. Aside from the monetary relief, the department agreed to provide widespread live anti-harassment training to all fire station chiefs and their subordinate staff, impacting every fire station in the city. The department also agreed to continue to enforce its policies against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; to offer an external equal employment opportunity complaint procedure; to post a notice on the matter; to report future instances of harassment to the EEOC; and, to publicize the settlement via press release.
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