Sexual Harassment in Westbrook – The Story Continues

There has been another development in the decade long sexual
harassment battle in the Westbrook, Maine Fire Department, as two male firefighters
have contested disciplinary actions imposed against them. Lt. Donald Trafford and
Firefighter Matthew Lamontagne are grieving their punishments to the Maine
Labor Relations Board.

The action comes on the heels of a sexual harassment lawsuit
filed by female firefighters
. The same firefighters had previously complained to
the Maine Human Rights Commission in 1994 and 2001, on each occasion prevailing
and receiving settlements.

On the positive side, the department is bringing in a
consultant to address allegations of gender bias and sexual harassment. The
most recent complaint alleges that
certain male firefighters, including company level officers, engaged in
incidents ranging from masturbation and pornography in a fire station to a sexual
affair and sex at a fire department gathering. For more on this story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • John K. Murphy

    Bringing in the “specialists” is like closing the barn door after the horse has left the building. It appears that there were enough “warning” signs but the administration did not take this serious.
    Proactive action, sexual harassment training and enforcing policy will prevent many of these occurrences.
    Are we seeing a trend across the country with an increase of sexual harassment litigation?

  • John
    I am not sure if I would call it an increase – it is just a steady “epidemic-level” flow of sexual harassment cases from year to year.
    It is unfortunate on so many different levels. The individuals involved (and their families) take an emotional hit, while co-workers are often expected to take sides creating a polarization (usually lopsided in favor of the guys). The department gets a black eye in the press. But an even bigger concern to me is that strategically the department’s leadership has to focus so much attention on the lawsuit that other important issues (new initiatives, staffing, training, radio comms, etc) get ignored. It is a lose-lose proposition all around.

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