Fire District Schedules Disciplinary Hearing For Firefighter Claiming Sexual Harassment

A fire district in Washington state is scheduling a hearing to discuss a disciplinary action against a female firefighter who has a sexual harassment lawsuit pending against the district. Samantha Ward filed suit against the Benton County Fire District #1 in Benton County Superior Court earlier this year.

According to court records, the suit was filed on March 14, 2023. The media is reporting the suit was filed in June. A copy of the complaint is not available, but NBCrightnow quotes from the complaint as follows:

  • The BCFD tolerated harassment on the basis that women cannot be promoted on the same basis as men.
  • Different treatment on the basis of gender concerning engine boss qualifications that are not allowed for male Lieutenants.
  • Retaliation/Hostile work environment: The BCFD allegedly took part in and tolerated a hostile environment.
  • Whistleblower retaliation for quality assurance complaints alleging that the BCFD condoned retaliatory action after the Firefighter Paramedic lodged her complaints.
  • Discrimination in violation of Title VII: BCFD denied Firefighter Paramedic a promotion based on sex.
  • Disparate impact in violation of Title VII: alleges engine boss requirement is discriminatory based on sex due to the fact that it was never previously required for male employees.
  • Hostile work environment on the basis of sex: comments and actions directed toward female Firefighter Paramedic were discriminatory and harassing.
  • Retaliation in violation of Title VII: In retaliation to complaints lodged by the female Firefighter Paramedic the BCFD changed her work shift and location and gave her negative evaluations to block career opportunities.

Ward returned from maternity leave earlier this month and was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the disciplinary hearing. Here is a link to news coverage of the matter. Unfortunately the video could not be embedded here.

The hearing is scheduled for today – August 29, 2023. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: August 30, 2023. It has been reported that Samantha Ward was terminated at the August 29, 2023 hearing. Attached is a copy of her Second Amended Complaint dated June 23, 2023, explaining why the media believed the suit was filed in June, not March. The original complaint was filed on March 14, 2023. We will update the story again when the west-coast media publishes an update.

Updated: August 31, 2023 – here is the latest news from Apple Valley News Now regarding Ward’s termination.

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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