Oregon Firefighter Sues for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

An Oregon firefighter who was retaliated against and later terminated after he complained about being sexually harassed, has filed suit naming his former employer, two chiefs, and three of his colleagues.

Phillip Walter Rilatos, III filed suit last week in Lincoln County Circuit Court naming the North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District #1, former Fire Chief Doug Kerr, current Fire Chief Rob Dahlman, Eric Maestas, David Bickerdyke, and Dennis Miles.

Riatos claims that the fire department refused initially to investigate his allegations about an incident that occurred on March 28, 2018, but later ordered an independent investigation that confirmed both the harassment and retaliation. He alleges he sought access to the investigation report but was denied until April 18, 2019 despite the fact it was dated August 21, 2018. He was then terminated five days later.

According to the complaint:

  • On May 28, 2018, Defendant FIRE DISTRICT by and through its employees and/or agents, Defendant MILES, Defendant MAESTAS, and Defendant BICKERDYKE, sexually harassed Plaintiff by putting up a poster in Plaintiff’s dorm stating “the homo is here,” and completely filled Plaintiff’s dorm with pink balloons as well as a large number of sanitary napkins which had the appearance of being used.
  • Plaintiff immediately reported the incident to Defendant FIRE DISTRICT, by and through their employee and/or agent, Lieutenant Rick DeJager. Lieutenant DeJager reported the incident up the chain of command to Defendant FIRE DISTRICT by and through their employee and/or agents, Defendant DAHLMAN and Defendant KERR.
  • Defendant FIRE DISTRICT, failed to resolve the incident, and failed to conduct a proper and/or thorough investigation as outlined by defendant FIRE DISTRICT’s policy.
  • Defendant FIRE DISTRICT, by and through their employees and/or agents treated Plaintiff adversely and shunned Plaintiff after Plaintiff reported the sexual harassment.
  • On August 21, 2018, following an independent investigation, D. Craig Stoelk, issued a written report finding that the May 28, 2018 incident was sexual harassment and constituted “a violation of the employer’s policy related to harassment.” Mr. Stoelk also found that Defendant FIRE DISTRICT, “failed to conduct a proper/thorough harassment investigation as outlined by the employer’s policy.”
  • Mr. Stoelk further found that Defendant, FIRE DISTRICT’s “shunning” of Plaintiff after Plaintiff reported the May 28, 2018 incident “is a clear form of retaliatory behavior.”
  • On April 18, 2019, after months of repeated oral and written requests, as well as a public records request, Defendant FIRE DISTRICT, finally allowed Plaintiff to examine the August 21, 2018 report authored by Mr. Stoelk via Plaintiff’s attorney but would not allow Plaintiff to retain a copy.
  • April 18, 2019 is the first day Plaintiff had knowledge (1) that his sexual harassment claim from May 28, 2018 was substantiated, (2) that Defendant FIRE DISTRICT’s own investigation was improper, and (3) that Defendant FIRE DISTRICT’s retaliation against Plaintiff was substantiated.
  • On April 23, 2019 Defendant FIRE DISTRICT terminated Plaintiff’s employment.

The suit alleges two violations of Oregon state discrimination law. 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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