Two Fire Officers Sue Hartford Alleging Sexual Harassment

Two fire officers with the Hartford Fire Department have filed suit claiming they were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliation. Captain Shelly Carter and Lieutenant Rosemarie Cataldo filed suit in US District Court for the District of Connecticut last week.

The suit contends the women “experienced alienation, hostility, and behavior that was demeaning and disrespectful from superior officers.” They also suffered retaliation when they complained, including discipline and increased scrutiny. Captain Carter claims that she was reassigned from a fire company, sent to the training academy, and required to repeat Blue Card training at least twelve times. According to the complaint, the harassment became so bad, she was forced to retire last year.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • The general atmosphere towards female members of the Department was so toxic and hostile that, upon information and belief, nearly every female who rose to the ranks of lieutenant or higher either filed an internal complaint of harassment and discrimination or, tragically, surrendered their promotion in order to avoid the hostility of the executive-level fire chiefs.
  • In each case, the allegation was deemed “unfounded” with little or no investigation whatsoever.
  • The hostile and discriminatory environment created for female officers is so prevalent, well-known, and intolerable that one of the six women in the Department who earned the rank of Lieutenant has “voluntarily” surrendered her position and requested a demotion in order to escape the hostility created by the male, executive-level Chiefs of the Department.
  • That is unfathomable considering the work and effort it takes to become an Officer and is especially surprising given the enhanced prestige and compensation of the Officer position.
  • No male officer has voluntarily requested a demotion.
  • The hostile and discriminatory environment created for female officers is so prevalent, well-known, and intolerable that at least three of the six female Officers in the Department have filed internal complaints alleging discrimination and harassment and, upon information and belief, all three are now pursuing claims with the Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities for harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in response to those complaints.
  • Thus, of the six female officers, one requested self-demotion and three others have pursued and/or are pursuing claims of discrimination and harassment based on their gender.
  • In the history of the Department, no female has ever risen hire than the rank of Captain.
  • In the history of the Department, only two females have been promoted to the rank of Captain.
  • For the first Captain, that promotion was only granted as the result of a civil rights lawsuit. For the second Captain, Plaintiff Shelly Carter, her promotion was met with such severe hostility that she was forced to resign.

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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