Vermont FD Settles Sexual Harassment Claim for $250k

The City of Barre, Vermont has reached a settlement with a former call firefighter who had alleged sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Firefighter Rachel Wyatt sued the city, Fire Chief Tim Bombardier, Deputy Chief Joe Aldsworth, Captain Robert Howrath and  firefighter Cindy Howrath claiming sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and wrongful termination. The case was filed in federal court in 2011.

Wyatt claims she was suspended in 2010 for failing to obtain her EMT license as required by department rules. She claims she was not given the full 18 months that she was originally told she had, and pointed to others in the department that did not obtain an EMT within the time requirements. She also claims that she had been subjected a sexually hostile work environment by other firefighters, particularly the Howarths.

According to court documents:

“The Howarths’ conduct included calling Plaintiff a “dumb blonde” and stating publicly their belief that Plaintiff was “just playing firefighter to find a husband.” Cindy Howarth frequently stared at Plaintiff in an intimidating and uncomfortable fashion. Cindy Howarth was also responsible for hiding and/or disposing of Plaintiff’s time sheets, her lunch, and on at least one occasion, her department issued firefighting gear. Captain Howarth refused to interact with Plaintiff altogether and would leave a lunch table if she sat down. ….Cindy Howarth filed a report that Plaintiff had engaged in inappropriate contact with a married male firefighter during a drill. The complaint was investigated and proven to be false, but Plaintiff found it degrading and humiliating. Cindy Howarth publicly posted demeaning statements about Plaintiff on Facebook, saying that “women like her give us real, women firefighters a bad name.” On one occasion, Captain Howarth stated, in the presence of others, that Plaintiff’s perfume was too strong and she would not be allowed to work unless she went home and showered.”

Wyatt complained to Chief Bombardier and Deputy Chief Aldsworth, but the treatment continued. Wyatt claims that in February, 2012, she was suspended from responding to runs until she obtained her EMT. At the time she had taken the class but needed to pass the examination. According to court documents:

“Deputy Chief Aldsworth met with Plaintiff during her suspension to help her study for the written EMT-B exam. Deputy Chief Aldsworth began to make unwelcomed sexual comments and advances towards her. Plaintiff reported Deputy Chief Aldsworth’s sexual harassment to Chief Bombardier on May 6, 2010. …

“[I]n July 2010, Plaintiff made an anonymous call to the State’s Emergency Medical Services expressing concern about an EMT colleague’s fitness for duty…. On August 31, 2010, Plaintiff met with Chief Bombardier and Deputy Chief Aldsworth about the anonymous phone call. When asked directly, Plaintiff denied making the call. In response to the denial, Plaintiff was suspended pending an investigation. As part of the investigation, Chief Bombardier obtained a copy of the recorded call and played it for four other firefighters, including Deputy Chief Aldsworth, to identify the voice on the call. Upon being satisfied that Plaintiff was the voice on the recorded call, Chief Bombardier fired Plaintiff for lying. Plaintiff alleges that the stated grounds were a pretext and the firing was actually retaliation for placing the call and for her previous reports of sexual harassment.”

The City agreed to pay $250,000 to settle the lawsuit. Under the agreement Wyatt was reinstated to her job and then voluntarily resigned.WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

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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