Louisiana Fire Dispatchers Claim Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

Three dispatchers for the Jefferson Parish East Bank Consolidated Fire Protection Bureau have filed suit alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. Monica Mitchell, Melissa Burkett, and Tammy Cavanaugh claim their supervisor, Robert Funk, discriminated against them and subjected them to a hostile work environment. Once they reported Funk’s behavior, they claim the department retaliated against them.

The suit was filed today in US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, naming Jefferson Parish, the East Bank Consolidated Special Service Protection Bureau, Fire Chief David Tibbets, Communications Supervisor Robert Funk, and their insurers. According to the complaint:

  • Funk consistently provides male employees necessary training and equipment to perform their current job duties and to qualify for the next higher position.
  • Funk denies the Complainants and other female employees the same necessary training and equipment for their current jobs and to qualify for the next higher position that he provides to their male counterparts.
  • As a result of Funk’s denial of equal training and resources to Complainants and other female employees, Fire Alarm is often staffed only with personnel who are untrained in the proper protocol for responding to certain emergencies and do not have access to equipment needed to provide critical, life-saving assistance to firefighters and the public.
  • The disparity in training, equipment and access at Fire Alarm has continued unabated to the present, despite Complainants’ continued pleas for relief to Funk, Chief Tibbets, and other members of Bureau leadership.
  • Funk has repeatedly pursued inappropriate relationships with subordinates during work hours for many years.
  • For years and continuing until the present date, Complainants have witnessed Funk take female dispatchers off premises during their shift for hours at a time, leaving Fire Alarm with inadequate staff to respond to calls.
  • On one such occasion, a four-alarm fire occurred when Funk and the female dispatcher were nowhere to be found.
  • Efforts to located Funk during this emergency were ignored by Funk.
  • On information and belief, Funk grants perks to the dispatchers who have allowed his inappropriate advances or who are complicit in his actions.
  • Complainants Mitchell and Burkett advised Fire Chief Greco of the sexual harassment of her co-worker. Burkett also confronted Funk about his aberrant behavior.
  • Following Mitchell’s and Burkett’s complaints, Funk’s behavior with subordinates did not change, and Funk began a campaign of retaliatory actions against Mitchell and Burkett, which included, but was not limited to, subjecting them to hostile, intimidating language, and misogynistic and racial slurs, continuing to deny them necessary training and resources, and selectively enforcing Bureau policies on mandatory overtime and emergency/sick leave in a punitive manner.
  • On May 14, 2018, Complainants each filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Since the Complainants filed with the EEOC, Defendants Funk and Tibbets subjected Complainant Burkett to numerous, malicious and baseless disciplinary proceedings before the Civil Service Board.
  • On November 14, 2018, Mitchell met with Chief Tibbets to discuss issues with a trainee under Mitchell’s supervision. In that meeting, Tibbets, stated that he would remove Fire Alarm employee’s civil service protections if the Complainants continued to exercise their rights under Title VII of the U. S. Code as well as under the Civil Service Rules.
  • On December 17, 2018, Chief Tibbets called a meeting with all supervisors where he threatened the Complainants that he could remove Fire Alarm employee’s civil service protections if they continued to exercise their rights under Title VII of the U. S. Code as well as under the Civil Service Rules.

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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