Cincinnati Fire Facing Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit

A Cincinnati firefighter has filed suit alleging she was sexually harassed, assaulted by a lieutenant and a firefighter, and retaliated against when she reported the misconduct. Rebecca Bryant filed suit today against the city, former Lieutenant Harold Wright, and firefighter Damonte Brown as defendants.

The suit was filed in US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio alleging a violation of Title VII; sexual harassment under Ohio state law; retaliation; intention infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; civil recovery for a criminal act under Ohio law; denial of equal protection, and denial of due process.

Bryant claims that she was assaulted by Lt. Wright prior to her hiring in 2019. She alleges he told her he was “vouching” for her to be hired, and that she felt indebted to him. At the time, Lt. Wright was in charge of recruiting. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On or around December 8, 2018, Defendant Wright invited Plaintiff to his house to play pool.
  • Plaintiff had not received a final offer of employment prior to December 8, 2018.
  • On or around December 8, 2018, Defendant Wright raped Plaintiff at his residence.
  • Plaintiff was accepted into the City’s recruit class on February 9, 2019.
  • On or around June 21, 2021, Ervin Mitchell made sexually harassing comments to Plaintiff, including statements that there was no place for women in the workplace.
  • Plaintiff reported Mitchell and was informed that an internal investigation was conducted.
  • Plaintiff was never made aware of the findings of the investigation.
  • In or around August 2022, Defendant Brown asked Plaintiff to drive him to his car after an assignment party attended by several Cincinnati Fire employees.
  • Defendant Brown sexually assaulted Plaintiff and attempted to rape her.
  • On or around October 10, 2022, Plaintiff reported both Defendant Brown and Defendant Wright’s past conduct.

Bryant filed a public records request for documents related to the investigations, but the city failed to provide all of the requested information. She later became aware of another female firefighter who accused Lt. Wright of sexual harassment and assault. City HR claimed they lost that firefighter’s complaint. Quoting again from the complaint:

  • As the City conducted an internal investigation, Defendants Brown and Wright were placed on paid administrative leave.
  • The City required Plaintiff to continue working during the pendency of the investigation, forcing her to use her PTO hours until she complained of the disparate treatment.
  • The City later misrepresented Plaintiff’s remaining PTO hours, resulting in her losing out on approximately 100 hours of pay.
  • During the investigation, the City conducted several interviews.
  • Present for these interviews was Falencia Frazier (“Frazier”), the Internal Lieutenant.
  • Plaintiff was told Frazier was there to observe and make sure the City was “following the contract.”
  • Frazier questioned each of the witnesses.
  • Frazier made inappropriate comments during the interviews.
  • Frazier made comments about Plaintiff’s breast size during the interviews.
  • Frazier asked Defendants Brown and Wright leading questions during the interviews.
  • Frazier is close personal friends with Defendant Wright.
  • Frazier called Defendant Wright to inform him that the charges against him would be substantiated and that the City would recommend termination.
  • Knowing that he would be terminated, Defendant Wright retired.
  • Defendant Wright maintained his pension upon his retirement.
  • Defendant Wright retired without discipline for Plaintiff’s rape.
  • Defendant Wright retired in good standing with the City.
  • Prior to his retirement, the City knew that Defendant Wright was charged with domestic violence in 2014.
  • Prior to his retirement, the City knew that [another female firefighter] complained about Defendant Wright in 2017.
  • Subsequent to learning that Defendant Wright had domestic violence charges against him, the City retained Defendant Wright in his Lieutenant in charge of recruiting position until his retirement.
  • Subsequent to learning that [another female firefighter] complained about Defendant Wright, the City retained Defendant Wright in his Lieutenant in charge of recruiting position until his retirement.
  • In his Lieutenant in charge of recruiting position, Defendant Wright was in charge of recruiting young, female firefighters.
  • The City did not substantiate Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant Brown.
  • Subsequent to the investigation, the City permitted Defendant Brown to work in Plaintiff’s district and on Plaintiff’s same schedule.
  • Subsequent to the investigation and contrary to Cincinnati Fire assignment standards, the City attempted to reassign and change Plaintiff’s schedule in favor of employees who did not complain of sexual assault and harassment.
  • The City failed to keep Plaintiff’s complaints confidential among other Cincinnati Fire employees.
  • Because of the rape, assault, harassment, and Defendant’s failure to take appropriate steps to ensure Plaintiff’s safety and wellbeing, Plaintiff was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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