lilac dr martens Fairfax Fire and Rescue women’s program officer resigns citing dept
The veteran firefighter who was appointed to lead the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s women’s program resigned from the position earlier this week, The Washington Post and WUSA9 reported Wednesday afternoon.
Bowers appointed Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley, a two decade veteran of the department and one of only three female battalion chiefs, to serve as the department’s interim Women’s Program Officer following the suicide of firefighter Nicole Mittendorf in 2016.
In her resignation letter, which was uploaded online by The Washington Post, Stanley accuses the fire and rescue department of tolerating even defending the kind of sexual harassment and retaliation that necessitated a revival of the women’s program officer, a position that had been vacant for nearly a decade. “Advice, advocacy and suggestions are humored, at best, and routinely dismissed.”
An internal investigation of Mittendorf’s death in April 2016 found derogatory online posts written by anonymous users who claimed to be colleagues of hers.
Another firefighter, Magaly Hernandez, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fairfax County Fire and Rescue on May 6, 2016, and the department placed the head of its office of professional standards on administrative leave later that month after female employees complained about inappropriate photos on his personal Facebook page.
Fairfax County ordered the department to undergo a review of its work environment in May 2016.
That third party assessment,
which was released by Fairfax County on Feb. 15, 2017, found that more than 23 percent of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s employees reported experiencing or witnessing workplace sexual harassment. The report also cited low employee confidence in leadership and the department’s accountability policies.
The lawsuit ended in a settlement.
Hernandez’s harassment lawsuit against station captain Jon Bruley was dismissed by a judge with the federal district court in Alexandria last year, but a federal appeals court reversed the district judge’s decision on Jan. 30. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion that “the full record of Bruley’s conduct could support a jury determination that, viewed objectively, Hernandez was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex.”
The court vacated the district court’s award of summary judgment to Fairfax County and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Fire Chief Richard Bowers Jr. on Wednesday saying that the department “takes seriously all claims of bullying, harassment, and retaliation.”
“Significant countywide resources are committed to identifying and addressing all founded concerns,” Bowers said. “The Fire and Rescue Department will continue to work with staff and county partners to address the range of issues and concerns regarding the organizational culture. We value every employee and volunteer in our department. We will continue to move forward to make our organization better and strive to cultivate a safe and welcoming workplace for everyone.”
The news release did not specifically mention Stanley’s resignation, the allegations in her letter, or the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on Hernandez’s suit.
Bowers and representatives from the fire and rescue department’s climate assessment work group presented an update on the department’s actions following the assessment’s release to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its public safety committee meeting on Jan. 30.
According to WUSA9, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova has gone through each of Stanley’s complaints with Bowers but has not talked to the battalion chief directly.
“We have a fantastic fire department, and members have been working very hard to bring changes,” Bulova said during the meeting.
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