A federal jury in Alexandria has ruled that the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department knew of and tolerated a male lieutenant’s sexual harassment of a female firefighter and has awarded her $250,000.
The county is facing a second federal trial next month involving allegations of years of far more intense and continual harassment of another female firefighter by her male colleagues and superiors.
Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald declined to comment on either the jury’s verdict or the pending case.
The harassment of firefighter Mary Getts Bland, who retired last year, began when she was being recruited to the Fairfax department in 2001 by Lt. Timothy D. Young, according to a 61-page memorandum opinion written by U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris this month. Summarizing the facts of the case, Cacheris noted that Young reportedly asked Bland questions such as “Do you enjoy having sex with more than one partner?” and “Do you like to be watched while you masturbate?” Young also asked Bland to accompany him to an adult sex-toy shop and did so several more times in ensuing years.
After three days of testimony, the jury deliberated for about three hours before reaching its verdict Wednesday evening, said Bland’s attorney Ellen K. Renaud. She declined to make Bland available for comment.
In her suit, Bland alleged that during her time in recruit school in 2002, Young called her two or three times to again request a joint trip to the sex-toy shop and made three or four more sexually explicit phone calls in 2002 and 2003 after she had joined the department, Cacheris wrote.
The two had no contact for the next four years, but in 2007, Bland alleged, Young initiated another sexual conversation, and in another instance, at a fire scene, Young walked past Bland carrying a long “pike pole” and told her “this looks like it would hurt.” After another episode in which the two were handling a fire hose and Young told Bland “you are squeezing me,” Bland reported Young, the judge wrote.
The fire department investigated Bland’s complaint, issued Young a written reprimand, ordered him to stay away from her and reassigned him to a station at the opposite end of the county. Bland claimed that these were meaningless measures and that the department later retaliated against her when she sought shift transfers.
Cacheris dismissed two of Bland’s three claims, including those for civil rights violations and retaliation, but allowed the sexual harassment claim to go to trial. He said that Bland had reported Young’s actions to a fire captain in 2006 and that “a reasonable juror could find that [Fairfax] knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take effective action to stop it.”
Renaud said one witness testified that Young claimed the best way to find sex partners was to work in the recruitment division. She said that Young denied threatening Bland with the “pike pole” and that the department only substantiated claims against him that he admitted to.
Even after Young was disciplined for his treatment of Bland, he allegedly made repeated inappropriate statements to firefighter Stacey Bailey. Renaud is also representing Bailey, whose 27-page lawsuit is filled with allegations of constant sexual harassment.
Baily’s suit alleges that a fire captain saw Bailey on her first day and said, “Oh great we got a woman! Let’s see if we can make her quit her first day — it would be a new record.” After further alleged harassment, the captain reportedly told Bailey, “if you complain, they will protect me because I’ve been a union member for over 20 years, and you’ve been here five minutes.”
Bailey alleges that ambulance trash covered in bodily fluids was placed in her locker and on her gear and that she was forced to participate in a dangerous training video that caused her permanent lung damage. Court records show that Fairfax County has agreed that Bailey should be paid workers’ compensation for the injury.