Lynchburg Facing Sexual Harassment Suit

The City of Lynchburg, Virginia is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former female firefighter who claims she was subjected to an onslaught of outrageous behavior culminating in her decision to leave the department after two years.

Ruth Anne L. Phillips filed the suit in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia last October. My apologies for not finding the suit sooner, but it slipped past my radar. It was in the headlines this week courtesy of WSET Channel 13 News.

In her suit Phillips alleges “unlawful employment discrimination and hostile work environment based on age, gender, sex, sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation perpetrated against her by the Lynchburg Fire Department and the City of Lynchburg.” Phillips claims that the work environment became so hostile that her resignation was the equivalent of a termination, a legal theory known as constructive termination.

The factual allegations are overwhelming and disturbing. Rather than trying to paraphrase them, they are provided below as alleged in the Amended Complaint which was filed earlier this year.

While I hate to put any caveats in any of my posts – as some will criticize the caveat, and some will criticize the lack of a caveat in another case – I think its worth mentioning the caveat here with the understanding that the same caveat applies any time I quote from court documents.

The allegations quoted here are not provided as an endorsement of them as being truthful (they are merely the allegations of a Plaintiff in a lawsuit) nor are they intended to embarrass the fire department or those involved. My hopes in printing these allegations is that firefighters far and wide who read them might recognize similar behaviors in their own departments – and realize how things that are happening in their own department might create the environment where suits like this can occur. Here are the allegations:

  • Defendants created a sexually charged hostile work environment when utilizing, approving, and otherwise turning the other way to abusive language such as wh*re, b*tch, sl*t, lesbian, dyke, and n*gger.
  • Defendants created a sexually charged hostile work environment, when posting, acknowledging and otherwise turning the other way to pornography that otherwise degraded the female firefighters and paramedics.
  • When made aware of these problems, Defendants turned the other way and indeed warned Plaintiff that she would be retaliated if she pursued same.
  • Plaintiff alleges and contends Title VII requires action by Defendants, notwithstanding her abilities to “confront” the perpetrators. It is not enough to contend, “boys will be boys”.
  • Defendants created a hostile work environment when regularly using and agreeing to statements that women were not strong enough to join the department, that the department was weaker because of them, and that women lowered the training standards.
  • In one training statement, women lead to the “p*ssyfication” of the department.
  • The environment created allowed for Plaintiff’s coworkers to expose their genitals to her, ask and comment on her sex life, her sex partners, and her gender identity. Nothing was done.
  • From June 2013 to July 2015, Plaintiff was subjected to negative comments in regards to women.
  • [S]he was subjected to a hostile work environment of severe and pervasive harassment when supervisors and cadets frequently used the term b*tch, ho and wh*re to describe women in the work place.
  • On Plaintiff’s first day of her assignment at Station 4 in June 2013, Plaintiff was told by another firefighter, “I hear you like black guys – too bad about your boyfriend.” (He was referring to one of the African American Cadets who did not complete the Academy.)
  • The firefighter further stated, “I heard his d*ck was so big, that he had to wear special shorts.” He then suggested that Plaintiff would be able to verify the size of the male’s penis.
  • On August 14, 2014 two of the Plaintiff’s co-workers bragged about “f*cking and scr*wing women” and referred to women in pejorative terms while Plaintiff was working in the kitchen. Plaintiff reported the incident to Captain Darryl Hamlett, who dismissed the behavior as immature.
  • Supervisors regularly made statements of racism, bigotry, hate speech and sexual harassment and did nothing when others made these statements in their presence creating a hostile environment forcing constructive discharge.
  • Attempts to combat these acts by the Plaintiff in the form of verbal complaints to Captain Allen Carwile and Battalion Chief Robert Lipscomb were dismissed or met with retaliation by her superiors and coworkers.
  • During the month of July 2013 Captain Darrell Hamlet walked into the kitchen where President Obama was on the television and in front of Plaintiff called President Obama “…that N*gger.”
  • Plaintiff sought guidance from Master Firefighter Quincy Scott of the LPFA who advised her that it was up to her if she reported it – and that he would support her either way – but warned that the Defendant had a history of retaliation against those who complained.
  • Plaintiff was on probation and was fearful that reporting the incident would cause her to lose her job and did not pursue it further.
  • Battalion Chief Jason Campbell posted a photo of two African American women from the community on his Facebook page with a derogatory comment.
  • The African American Firefighter who reported the incident was subjected to retaliation and Jason Campbell was promoted to Deputy Chief.
  • In the presence of the Plaintiff, male firefighters referred to a black firefighter recruit being called “Cleetus” as a slur.
  • In the presence of the Plaintiff white recruits repeatedly hit a black recruit in the back of the head as they ran by.
  • Plaintiff complained about the physical abuse to Battalion Chief Robert Lipscomb who told her she needed to “stop mothering everyone.”
  • While running stairs at Monument Terrace in Lynchburg, five Cadets yelled at an African American male who was walking down the street to pull up his pants. They yelled to the young man that he must want “to be f*cked up the a*s” because he wore his pants like that. This was done in the presence of Master Firefighter Christopher Milner who did not stop the harassment. He has since been promoted to Captain.
  • On March 3, 2015, Captain Kenny Turner stated that the African Americans protesting in Ferguson Missouri were “criminals” and “animals” and they should all be in jail.
  • Captain Turner referred to the corner market as “Ahkmed’s” and the owner as a “raghead.”
  • On or around May 2015, Captain Darrell Hamlett referred to the LBGT community as a bunch of “f*cking f*ggots,” “fags” and “queers” in regards to the Equality in Marriage Act. He said that if he saw two f*ggots kissing at a restaurant he would be forced to get up and leave. He said that he was sorry if it was insulting to Plaintiff, but he was a Christian and had certain beliefs.
  • On May 19, 2015 one of the firefighters at pump class referred to a former coworker as “Muslim Rudy” and bragged about telling him that in Lynchburg they were “Christians who did things the Christian way.”
  • Captain Allen Carwile showed a YouTube video called “Funny Arab Shooting Gun.” The video had no moral or educational value as to the work of a firefighter or medic. During the video, one of the Cadets was encouraged by the Captain to provide a running commentary in a stereotypical, offensive and cartoonish accent which referenced terrorists, Muslims and Bin Laden. Afterwards the same Cadet asked if the class would be able to watch the one with “girls shooting guns.”
  • On or around April 30, 2014 Plaintiff’s partner removed his pants and deliberately exposed his penis to the Plaintiff in the co-ed locker room.
  • The behavior was reported to Captain Darrell Hamlet and the individual was transferred to Station 1. However, he was promoted to Master Firefighter.
  • To the Plaintiff, a female Battalion Chief was regularly referred to as a fat a*s, a fat dyke, and a lesbian by the Plaintiff’s Captain.
  • Coworkers regularly called the female medical director a dyke and incompetent when speaking to Plaintiff.
  • Coworkers regularly called another female Captain was referred to as an idiot and stupid and “the only reason she had been promoted was because they needed to hire a female.”
  • The pervasive atmosphere, allowed a petri dish of discrimination.
  • Plaintiff’s male partner consistently maligned and berated about her gender, age and beliefs. He berated her as a working mother.
  • Plaintiff’s partner frequently refused to provide her with directions when she was driving and Plaintiff became concerned for her own safety and those of her patients.
  • A captain questioned Plaintiff’s arm strength and said “older people” can’t get up in the night and why did she think she could.
  • On May 21, 2015, Captain Tom McCriccard referred to the lack of testing standards in the fire service as the “pussification of the fire service.” This was done in front of the entire Pump class.
  • On or around the month of June 2015, one of Plaintiff’s coworkers stated that another female firefighter hadn’t been fired yet, because she was giving Chief Ferguson “blow jobs.” He further disparaged Plaintiffs place of residence and referred to it as the “ghetto.”

As hard as it may be to believe, there’s even more in the complaint. None of the firefighters was named as a defendant in the suit, just the City of Lynchburg and the Lynchburg Fire Department. Phillips is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, cost and attorneys fees.

Here is a copy of the Amended Complaint: Phillips v Lynchburg Amended

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.

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