In 2018, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative (SHWI). The purpose of the initiative was to take action against the sexual harassment of public employees. Sexual harassment of any employee is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This month, the DOJ (specifically the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York) announced a lawsuit against the town/village of Harrison and its fire department. It involves the town’s handling of a sexual harassment case involving a female firefighter.
According to the DOJ, the problems began almost immediately after the firefighter joined the department in 2015 when a male senior firefighter started making sexual advances and then harassing and stalking her. According to the federal complaint, he also “used sexually demeaning expletives to describe [her] in front of other firefighters.” Although the female firefighter reported the harassment to her superiors in the department, the DOJ contends they did nothing to stop it. She then filed a police report.
Pressured to resign or face arrest
The former police chief is recorded acknowledging to the alleged harasser/stalker that the female firefighter provided a “temptation” that was “hard to resist sometimes.” He told the male firefighter that he planned to “broker a deal with the town to make sure this whole thing dies.”
According to prosecutors, the police chief actually threatened to arrest the female firefighter as well as “report her other relationships to…fire commissioners” if she didn’t sign a letter of resignation he drafted for her. She signed the letter but later tried (unsuccessfully) to withdraw it.
The harassment continued after leaving her job
Even after she left the fire department, the DOJ says the harassment and stalking by the firefighter continued until he was arrested. He pled guilty.
While this appears to be a particularly serious case of sexual harassment and retaliation, it’s not as unusual as one might hope. Too often, the people whom victims turn to for help (and who have an obligation to help them) make things worse instead of better.
You don’t have to put up with harassment or abuse of any kind in the workplace. If you’re unable to get help from your employer, it may be time to see what your legal options are.