Jacksonville Lieutenant Sues For Sexual Harassment

A rescue lieutenant with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department has filed a sexual harassment suit in US District Court for the Middle District of Jacksonville, Florida. Lieutenant Candice Buckner claims she was harassed and that once she complained her problems got worse. She alleges that much of the harassment came from fellow officers.

From the complaint:

  • In or around June 2012, Buckner complained that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment in the fire station to which she was assigned due to the presence and volume of sexually explicit and pornographic materials, and inappropriate behaviors, in the fire station.
  • Those complaints were brought to the attention of the Office of General Counsel for the Defendant City, the Director of the JFRD, Martin Senterfitt, and the officers who worked in the fire station to which Buckner was assigned.
  • Since that time, Buckner has been subjected to a hostile work environment, disparate, disciplinary treatment, and retaliatory measures by those within the JFRD.
  • In February 2013, Lieutenant Dobson approached Lieutenant Buckner and stated that Buckner’s teenage daughter would soon be of legal age for some fireman to “f—.” Buckner told Dobson to knock it off, and he grabbed her arm, spun her around, and repeated his comment. Buckner and Dobson pushed one another, and Dobson was pushed out of the room. Buckner locked the door so he could not return. Dobson re-entered the area and approached Buckner again and continued to harass her. Battalion Chief Neal White was present and witnessed the event. White did nothing to mitigate or stop the incident.
  • During the spring of 2013, JFRD officer, Battalion Chief Neal White, spoke repeatedly of his intention to have Buckner removed from the fire station, stating, “if it’s the last thing I do, she is not staying here.”
  • [I]n April 2013, JFRD officers Lt. Geiger and Lt. Carrow held meetings to which she was not invited, and referred to her amongst her peers and subordinates as a “crazy bitch”.
  • In March 2013, firefighter Sullivan posted negative and derogatory remarks on Buckner’s social media webpage. Buckner notified Sullivan that he should cease the inappropriate behavior. In response, Sullivan told Buckner that she could not discipline him because she was only a “rescue lieutenant.” Buckner notified Lieutenant Carrow, Sullivan’s immediate supervisor, of Sullivan’s behavior, to which Carrow refused to respond.
  • On April 4, 2013, Buckner finally confronted Lieutenant Carrow and stated that she intended to pursue discipline against firefighter Sullivan. Carrow told her that he would not ”let” her discipline Sullivan and that she should transfer to another station. He also told her that “this is Station One, and we aren’t changing because you’re here. In fact, we come here to get away from our wives and girlfriends, and we can’t do what we want because you’re here.” When she asked him what he meant, Lieutenant Carrow stated that “we aren’t changing 150 years of tradition just because there’s a bitch in the house now.”
  • On April 10, 2013, Lieutenant Geiger was overheard asking firefighter Whitlow, “hey man, how’s that piece of p—-?” in reference to Buckner. Rather than discipline Lieutenant Geiger, Chief White asked Buckner, Lieutenant Geiger, and Engineer Cooksey to explain to him “what the problem [was].” Buckner advised Chief White that she did not want to discuss the matter in front of Lieutenant Geiger, to which Chief White responded that “no one [was] leaving the room” until the matter was resolved. Buckner told Chief White that he was allowing inappropriate behavior to continue and that it was his job to stop it.
  • On May 1, 2013, Lieutenant Geiger instructed other officers and firefighters not to talk to Buckner, that it is time to “freeze her out, we we’ll just nip this crap in the butt.” Later that day, Buckner overheard Chief White telling Lieutenant Geiger and Carrow that Buckner will be transferred out shortly, not to worry about it, and that he’s “got their backs.”
  • On May 10, 2013, after several days of personal leave, Buckner returned to work and was confronted with open hostility by Lieutenants Geiger and Carrow, Firefighter Sullivan, and Engineer Cooksey. Comments were made on more than one occasion that were meant to exclude Buckner, such as, “all men to the table, time for brotherhood.”
  • During this time, Buckner was constantly told by JFRD officers that she would be subjected to greater scrutiny and that she would be expected to live by the letter of the rules. For example, JFRD officers would be openly inspecting her uniform, response times to calls, performance at calls, and general “aptitude for the job.” No other personnel were subjected to this heightened level of scrutiny.

The complaint contains four counts: Buckner v Jacksonville

  • Count I – Sex Discrimination in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • Count II – Sex Discrimination in Violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act
  • Count III – Retaliation under Title VII
  • Count IV – Retaliation under the Florida Civil Rights Act

The city is the only named defendant, so despite identifying those responsible for the harassment in her complaint, Buckner opted not to pursue them personally.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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.
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