California FD Settles Sexual Harassment Suit for $1.25 Million

The City of Petaluma has agreed to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by a female firefighter for $1.25 million.

Andrea Waters filed suit in 2014 in Sonoma County Superior Court accusing colleagues and superiors of creating a sexually hostile work environment and retaliating against her when she complained.

Waters claimed she was treated as a second-class citizen, denied the opportunity to work shift trades, forced to share shower and sleeping quarters with male firefighters, “hyper-scrutinized” and subjected to fabricated criticisms. The problems worsened once she complained, leading her to resign in May, 2014.

The settlement announcement last week sparked an exchange of contradictory media statements by the city and Waters’ legal team. Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly, expressed regret that Waters resigned before allowing the city the opportunity to address her claims. “Given the chance, we would’ve absolutely done that. It’s a shame that so much public money was expended when it’s needed for core services, so it’s good to move beyond the case.” He called the settlement a “kind of a business decision” and referred to an outside investigation of the case that concluded Waters’ allegations were “without merit.”

In response, Waters’ attorney Mat Stephenson, was quoted by The Press Democrat as saying:

  • “The entire thing just seems like the city hasn’t learned from this experience”
  • “The idea that they paid $1.25 million basically … (because) it would be an inconvenience”
  • “Not only did she tell them, but other officers told superior officers what was going on, and they had a group of old guard Neanderthal officers that not only ignored it, but celebrated it”

More on the 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.
x

Check Also

Tacoma Fined and Ordered to Train Department Heads in Public Records Compliance

The City of Tacoma has been fined $36,800 and ordered to provide training to all department heads for failing to produce a fire protection study when requested by an open government activist. Arthur West sued the city seeking “threat assessment” records related to an LNG facility.

Fire District Settles Trademark Infringement Suit With Union

A lawsuit filed by an Oregon fire district seeking to block the firefighter’s union from using the department’s trademarked and copyrighted logos, has been settled. The Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue filed suit against Mid-Columbia Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 1308 last September.