California City Settles Sexual Harassment Suit for $348k

The City of St. Helena has agreed to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with a former fire department employee who claims that male firefighters subjected her to a hostile work environment.

Alison Mattioli filed suit last year claiming that members of the all-male fire department subjected her to “hostile, demeaning and disrespectful conduct.” Mattioli was serving as a management analyst for the fire department at the time. According to its web site, St. Helena Fire Department has only one full-time staff member and two full-time firefighters, with the remainder (including the chief) being listed as part-time. Mattioli no longer works for the department.

Mattioli claims that when she reported the hostile behavior to Fire Chief John Sorensen, her told her the firefighters “don’t respect you because you’re a woman in a position of authority.” The complaint also alleged “Sorensen ultimately explained that he was unable to take any action because if he attempted to enforce any code of conduct the firefighters didn’t like, they could, as a group, vote him out as they had done the previous Fire Chief.”

The suit was settled for $348,000, which will be paid for by the city’s insurer. The settlement also calls for training of all City employees on diversity and workplace culture over the next year. 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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