Oregon Fire District Sued for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

Two female staff members of an Oregon fire district who were laid-off in February, 2023, have filed suit claiming the layoff was thinly-disguised retaliation for complaints they had made about sexual harassment and financial mismanagement. Jennifer Motherway and Anika Todd filed suit last week naming Columbia River Fire & Rescue.

Motherway and Todd allege that they expressed concerns about sexually harassing behavior as early as June of 2021, but the complaints were either not investigated, or labeled as unsubstantiated. The complaint states the sexually offensive behavior continued and a hostile work environment resulted.

Meanwhile financial irregularities prompted the plaintiffs to raised additional concerns that were similarly not entertained. Instead their duties were modified. In January, 2023 the district reported that “finances were in bad shape,” “accused the previous finance director and finance manager of mismanagement,” and the district “intended to lay off two staff members.” On February 7, 2023, Motherway and Todd were laid off.

The suit alleges retaliation under Oregon Revised Statutes 659A.203; retaliation under ORS 659A.199 – which is essentially a whistleblower protection law; retaliation under ORS 659A.030(1)(f); sexual discrimination under ORS 659A.030(1)(a)-(b)); hostile work environment in violation of ORS 659A.030 et seq; Medical Leave Interference and Retaliation under ORS 659A.183; and wrongful discharge.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

UPDATE: April 11, 2023: News coverage – https://www.thechronicleonline.com/news/turmoil-at-crfr-no-confidence-vote-lawsuit-filed/article_24a51854-d7e9-11ed-a06a-9f625b54abc6.html

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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