Texas Fire Department Facing Another Lawsuit

A Texas fire department that has been in the Fire Law News twice recently, is once again facing a lawsuit. The Magnolia Fire Department, Montgomery County Emergency Services District #10, and two chief officers are facing a sexual harassment suit brought by a former firefighter – assistant office manager.

Yesenia Espinosa filed suit in US District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and constructive termination. The suit also accuses an assistant chief of assault and battery. Quoting from the complaint:

  • During Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant MFD, she was exposed to an ongoing hostile work environment, including gossiping, favoritism, and sexism. In particular, Defendant NAUMANN was known for his short temper, cursing at work and consistently making offensive hand gestures when irritated, raising both middle fingers at Plaintiff in the office.
  • As a result, Plaintiff attempted to ignore ongoing workplace dramas and perform her job to the best of her ability. Plaintiff was an exemplary employee, maintained outstanding reviews and relationships with her colleagues and was dedicated to serving her community. Plaintiff fully intended to work for Defendant MFD until the age of retirement.
  • However, Defendant NAUMANN’s unwelcome and frightening conduct against Plaintiff continued to escalate. Plaintiff grew frustrated and frightened because Defendant NAUMANN’s conduct was unpredictable. At times Defendant NAUMANN acted cruelly towards Plaintiff, yet at other times he acted friendly and cordial towards her.
  • Plaintiff’s direct supervisor, Defendant HEVEY was well aware of Defendant NAUMANN’s conduct, and Plaintiff’s fear of Defendant NAUMANN. Plaintiff notified Defendant HEVEY both verbally and in writing of such on multiple occasions.
  • On September 13, 2022, as part of her normal job duties as an Assistant Office Manager, Plaintiff inquired of Defendant NAUMANN simply to store copy paper boxes in a proper place. Defendant NAUMANN abruptly got up from his desk and began yelling at Plaintiff, a petite female: “you’re not asking! You demanded I respond to you”! Then, Defendant NAUMANN proceed to loudly throw and slam multiple (6-10) heavy boxes of copy paper against the wall and floor in a fit of rage. Defendant NAUMANN continued to curse and demean Plaintiff under his breath during this outburst. Plaintiff was terrified and felt sick to her stomach.
  • On September 15, 2022, a second incident between Plaintiff and Defendant NAUMANN arose. Plaintiff arrived at work and was putting away her purse, and Defendant NAUMANN came behind Plaintiff, put his hand on her shoulders and attempted to hug Plaintiff. Plaintiff removed herself and asked Defendant NAUMANN to “please stay away”.
  • Defendant NAUMANN persisted in repeatedly telling Plaintiff “I have only one question, just answer one question! Did you tell the Chief?”, in reference to the September 13th incident. Plaintiff declined to respond to Defendant NAUMANN, as she felt it was both unnecessary and unreasonable. Defendant NAUMANN continued to invade Plaintiff’s space and block her movement from her desk. Defendant NAUMANN finally receded, stating “F— you” and “F— yourself” to Plaintiff.
  • Defendant NAUMANN was placed on leave, thus absent from the office, from September 26, 2022 through October 10, 2022.
  • On September 29, 2022, upon entering the premises, Defendant HEVEY and Chief Pengarakis made comments eluding to Plaintiff being evil, saying “666, that’s you” and “that’s the devil’s number, Yesie”.
  • Later, on September 29, 2022, Defendant HEVEY met with Plaintiff privately to quiz Plaintiff on some social media posts from an unknown woman. The messages stated that MFD put certain employees on paid vacation for misconduct.
  • Defendant HEVEY was insinuating that Plaintiff knew of or directed those messages, from a stranger. Plaintiff reiterated that she shared the incident with no one, did not and would not put such information on social media, and her social media account was set on private nonetheless.
  • On September 29, 2022, as a direct result of the stress from the above incidents, Plaintiff inquired about counseling services offered by Defendant MFD. Plaintiff was not offered counseling services by or through Defendant MFD until she tendered her resignation.
  • October 10, 2022, Plaintiff grew increasingly anxious about additional and escalating harassment and retaliation in anticipation of Defendant NAUMANN’s return to from leave.
  • As a result, Plaintiff felt she had no other choice but to resign from the job she loved and spent 8 years serving her community.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

Previous Fire Law headlines:

Former Texas Chief Files Discrimination Suit

YCMTSU in Texas Fire Department

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.

Check Also

Captain Loses Suit Against LA County Over Kobe Bryant Crash Scene Photos

A lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles County fire captain caught up in the photo-taking scandal surrounding the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, has been dismissed. Captain Brian Jordan sued the county to recoup the legal fees he incurred defending his actions when he was sued by the families of those killed in the crash.

LA County Settles Shooting of Fire Captain in Firehouse for $2.6 Million

Los Angeles County has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a fire captain who was shot by a firefighter in 2021. The settlement calls for a payment of $2.6 million to Captain Arnoldo V. Sandoval, who suffered serious injuries in the incident that occurred at Station 81.