Wisconsin Firefighter Sues Over Alleged Harassment

A former Wisconsin firefighter has filed suit claiming she was sexually harassed and then retaliated against once she complained. Megan Tautges claims the harassment and retaliation she suffered during her tenure with the Greendale Fire Department became intolerable, forcing her to resign.

Tautges’s federal suit names the fire department and two chiefs as defendants. She claims the harassment began shortly after she was hired in 2017. As stated in the complaint:

  • At the beginning of 2018 Tautges was moved from “B-Shift” to “C-Shift” where she developed a good working relationship with most shift members. However, one individual on C-Shift, Jarod Kimber, had a long history of sexually harassing behaviors.
  • Kimber would draw sexual images on department property and other members’ personal property and kept sex toys at the fire station. Kimber openly watched pornography at the fire station, and loudly expressed his opinions about women’s bodies.
  • Tautges reported her concerns about Kimber to other firefighters, but they dismissed Kimber’s conduct—telling Tautges that he used to be much worse.
  • Tautges also learned that [the fire chief] Saidler had a history of inappropriate behavior including sending sexually explicit texts and emails to coworkers.
  • On one occasion, Saidler told a pregnant employee to hop up on the counter so he could check for crowning.
  • Tautges was reluctant to report Kimber’s sexual harassment based on the dismissive attitude of her fellow officers and Saidler’s history of sexual harassment.
  • On May 2, 2018, Mike Schmitt, one of Tautges’ supervisors, falsely documented the air temperature in order to send Tautges home for a medical exam. Schmitt told Tautges that he could send Tautges home if he felt that she was not able to do her job even though Tautges was able to do her job.
  • More than a week after Tautges returned to duty after being sent home on May 2, 2018, Saidler told Tautges she would be required to obtain, at her own expense, a medical clearance stating that she did not have any underlying cardiac issues despite her pre-employment physical screening showing she did not have any cardiac issues.
  • No other firefighters were required to obtain medical re-clearance in similar circumstances. Typically, firefighters would be given IV fluids to avoid making them leave for the day. This was never offered to Tautges.
  • Tautges obtained the medical re-clearance showing that she had no cardiac issues.
  • Tautges’ coworkers were told that she had collapsed during the training and had to be carried back to the truck by another firefighter, and that Tautges was not fit for duty. None of these statements were true.
  • Tautges later learned that it was Kimber who made the false statements about her health. Kimber made his false statements maliciously for the purpose of getting Tautges fired in retaliation for the reports she made earlier in 2018.
  • Tautges was told by Kyle Kierzek, one of her supervisors on C-Shift, that she better not get pregnant during her probationary period if she wanted to keep her job.
  • Tautges made a complaint about Kierzek’s statement to Saidler, and told him she was afraid that she would be retaliated against for her complaint.
  • Saidler took no actions to process or address Tautges’ complaint.
  • On September 2, 2018—a few days after making her complaint—Kierzek told Tautges that she could only wear workout attire made of 100% cotton, while male officers were allowed to wear non-cotton workout attire. When Tautges asked Kierzek why she was singled out, he told her not to worry about what other people were wearing.
  • On September 4, 2018, Tautges made another complaint about Kierzek’s discriminatory and retaliatory behavior, this time to Dean Kozelek. Kozelek notified Kierzek of Tautges’ complaint but did not investigate or resolve the issue.
  • After Tautges’ discrimination complaint, Kierzek treated her poorly, causing her to fear for her safety and job security.
  • On October 9, 2018, despite exclusively positive reviews and training records up to this point, Tautges received two “Counseling and Instruction Reports” claiming that Tautges was deficient in skills she had in fact mastered.
  • After Tautges was given the Counseling and Instruction Reports, she asked for an opportunity to demonstrate that she was proficient in the skills identified in the reports.
  • After successfully demonstrating the skills at issue, Tautges asked that the reports be removed from her file or at least amended to reflect the skills that she had just demonstrated.
  • GFD refused to remove or amend the reports.

The complaint goes on to list two more years’ worth of problem behaviors and lack of investigations, culminating with Tautges’ resignation on June 2, 2021. Her suit alleges a violation of her due process rights under the US and Wisconsin constitutions; a violation of her “right to occupational liberty” under both constitutions;  and a violation of her right to free speech under both Constitutions. Oddly, it does not allege sexual harassment or sexual discrimination.

Tautges is seeking reinstatement, damages and attorneys fees. 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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