Michigan Firefighter Sues Claiming Sexual Harassment

A firefighter in Saginaw, Michigan has filed suit alleging sexual harassment. Chelsea Powers filed suit last week in US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan accusing the Saginaw Charter Township Fire Department, Fire Chief Jim Peterson, and Assistant Chief Jim Berent of allowing her to be harassed by her colleagues.

Powers, who began with the department in September, 2016, claims she was subjected to offensive language and treated differently than her male colleagues. Among the allegations in the complaint:

  • In late 2016, Plaintiff told a male firefighter not to take her phone to take a picture of his penis (which he was known for doing). Afterwards, he told Plaintiff he did not care about working with bitches like her. Plaintiff immediately complained to Defendant Berent who did nothing and excused the male firefighter’s behavior;
  • From April through May of 2017, while still being forced on probation, Plaintiff was told she had to attend a Hazmat class for three weeks in Bay City, which the other four male probationary firefighters were not required to attend;
  • When Plaintiff got off probation, she was given a pink thigh-master by firefighters at Station One; Defendant Berent, along with other officers, were in the room when Plaintiff was presented with it. One of the male firefighters, who also received a gift for getting off probation, was given a female Barbie doll as a joke because he was previously caught having intimate relations with a woman at the station;
  • In March of 2018, Plaintiff’s shoe was missing and subsequently found in the garbage;
  • During and after the investigation, it was apparent several male firefighters were upset with Plaintiff for making the complaint and retaliated against her;
  • In or about June of 2018, Plaintiff was at dinner with other firefighters. Another female firefighter was also present who had just had a baby. Several male firefighters made crying noises, one amplifying a baby cry from his phone, so the new mother would lactate. Plaintiff, found it offensive, and told them to stop;
  • Several male firefighters have referred to Plaintiff as a “bitch”;
  • Plaintiff felt unsafe and complained about the male firefighters brandishing their knives when unnecessary, but it was allowed to continue.
  • Indeed, one of the male firefighters was heard saying, “I’d like to stick this knife in Chelsea.”
  • The severe and pervasive harassment directed at Plaintiff, based on her gender, has caused her severe anxiety and rendered her unable to work.

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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