The Los Angeles City Fire Department recently agreed to pay nearly 500,000 dollars to settle charges of retaliation and sexual and religious discrimination. The department will also put into effect extensive anti-harassment training, all part of an agreement reached by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
A firefighter/engineer had been employed at the department since 1986. In 2007, he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, claiming that, beginning near the end of 2006, he was being subjected to repeated harassment by co-workers who were making offensive comments related to sex and religion. The EEOC investigated the alleged harassment and found apparent links to the firefighter’s lawsuit against the Catholic Church, asserting that he had been sexually abused by a priest. One of the other firefighters had learned about the lawsuit, and a number of the co-workers ridiculed the man, calling him names that were sexual and religious in nature, as well as explicit and offensive.
The man lodged a complaint with management officials but, according to the EEOC, the department did not appropriately address or put a stop to the harassment. The investigation also uncovered alleged retaliation against the firefighter for his part in another EEOC investigation. Considering the harassment and retaliation, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act had been violated. Title VII, part of the stature passed into law in 1964, prohibits any employee discrimination, whether based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department sidestepped potential litigation by consenting to a three-year conciliation agreement with the EEOC and the firefighter, who was being represented by his own attorney. The department agreed to monetary relief totaling 494,150 dollars. Additionally, it will be providing live anti-harassment training to all of the fire station chiefs and the accompanying staff in the city of Los Angeles. The agreement also requires that the department continue to enforce policies opposing harassment, discrimination and retaliation; offer a procedure for submitting complaints to the EEOC; post a notice regarding the lawsuit and settlement; report any future occurrences of harassment to the EEOC; and provide a press release for media publication concerning the settlement and its terms.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department employs more than 3,500 uniformed personnel across 103 neighborhood fire stations within a 470 square-mile jurisdiction. It covers nearly four million people living in the city.
Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, said in an EEOC press release, “We are pleased that the Los Angeles City Fire Department is demonstrating its commitment toward creating a workplace free of harassment and retaliation. By working with the EEOC this way, the department is sending a message that no further civil rights abuses will be tolerated – a key responsibility of all employers.”