Kansas Firefighter Sues for Sexual Harassment

A Kansas firefighter who claims she endured years of sexual harassment at the hands of her colleagues and retaliation by supervisors after she complained, has filed suit in federal court.

Elizabeth Hinton filed suit last week against the City of Olathe in US District Court in Kansas City. She is accusing her colleagues and superiors of creating a hostile work environment, failing to respond to her complaints, and retaliating against her by giving her poor evaluations, falsely accusing her of having an inappropriate relationship, and falsely claiming she was unable to do her job.

Hinton, a firefighter in Olathe since 2006, claims her colleagues harassed her on an ongoing basis, including making “mooing” sounds while she was pumping breastmilk. According to the complaint:

  • From the very beginning and throughout her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff has been subjected to continuous sexual harassment and discrimination.
  • On one of her first shifts, Plaintiff was informed by one of her fellow firefighters that there were bets going around that someone could get her to quit, that no one wanted her there, and that she had entered the biggest frat house.
  • And Plaintiff was later made to complete the online sexual harassment training for three of the more senior firefighters, who commented, “Is it weird that our only female is doing all our sexual harassment training?”
  • And Plaintiff was continuously subjected to all kinds of discriminating and harassing comments, including but not limited to: “Do her curtains match her drapes?” “She’s a spinner if you know what I mean,” and “I like it when they swallow.”
  • The continuous harassment and discrimination continued and worsened after Plaintiff became pregnant.
  • Plaintiff informed OFD Battalion Chief Parker and that she was pregnant, to which he responded, “Well say goodbye to that body. That’s why I don’t date young girls like you. You’re too fertile.”
  • Plaintiff also advised OFD Battalion Chief Fischer that she was pregnant to which he responded, “You’re probably going to want to quit after the babies are born.”
  • Plaintiff inquired as to the maternity leave policy and was told by OFD Deputy Fire Chief Todd Hart, “We don’t have anything. We can do whatever we want this way.”
  • Plaintiff was also subjected to ridicule by her fellow firefighters who disagreed that she should still be working while pregnant. She was told, “I would never let my wife work while pregnant; that’s selfish.”
  • When Plaintiff returned to work after giving birth to her twins, she was not given a dedicated, private space with a lock to pump breastmilk.
  • As a result, from September 2014 to May 2015, while pumping breastmilk, male firefighters would stand outside the door and make “mooing” noises or they would purposefully walk in on Plaintiff while she was pumping breastmilk.
  • In addition, Plaintiff was regularly subjected to comments by OFD’s firefighters and Command Staff about her breasts, including “Those are bigger!” “Your high beams are on!” “Are you leaking? Must be time to pump!” “Stop making regular milk. Make me chocolate or strawberry milk when you pump.” “With all this milk, we can be rich. We’ll sell it on the black market!” “Are these sugar horns? No, they are for Beth’s boobs.”
  • Plaintiff was also sent a picture of a male firefighter wearing a uniform shirt with two large holes cut out thus displaying his nipples, with a comment, “Do you like the new uniforms?”
  • In addition, despite being repeatedly advised of her schedule to pump breastmilk, the OFD Command Staff regularly scheduled mandatory meetings and training for Plaintiff’s unit which conflicted with her pumping schedule.
  • In addition, upon learning that Plaintiff was paid for work that she did while pregnant and on bed rest, Chief Parker asked Plaintiff, “How the hell did you earn ESS pay by sitting on your ass and eating all day?”
  • Plaintiff was also frequently and regularly subjected to comments and baseless claims that she must be engaged in a sexual relationship with her Station Captain simply because of her positive professional association with him. She was repeatedly told that he must be her “boyfriend,” “crush,” or “Fire Daddy.”
  • Plaintiff regularly complained about and reported the continuous sexual harassment and discrimination, including her disparate treatment, to her supervisor, but to no avail.
  • Instead, she was told “they don’t really mean it” and to just let it go.

The 13 page complaint contains three counts, hostile work environment sexual harassment, sexual discrimination based upon disparate impact, and retaliation.

Here is a copy of the complaint: hinton-v-olathe

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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