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Fire Service Court at FDIC

Tue, 4 May 2010|

Live from FDIC 2010, attorneys Chip Comstock, John K. Murphy, Brad Pinsky, and Curt Varone discuss situations in which harassment can lead to serious monetary awards from litigation against fire departments. They also make recommendations on how departments can deal with harassing comments that ...



-- Welcome to fire service court radio my name is Greg -- in your host. Today I have with me John Murphy -- -- and -- thrown. Four of us are lawyers we worked in various places throughout the nation. And we all represented fire departments municipalities and -- speak frequently on fire department issues. Today we are at FDIC in Indy and we have a special presentation. We want to talk about things we do -- fire service. Which may cast you harassing conduct and actually end up -- -- large monetary verdict against the actor or the fire department. We had a good example start off with an attorney John Murphy and let's not talk about real life examples. Well recently there's two and a half million dollar reward and California to a female recruit firefighter and in and -- -- probationary firefighter. Who who ended up having all of their pre training prior to getting in there she graduated from California. Training academy was -- -- And she was a single mother and and so a lot of what occurred to the academy where there are a number of comments which became. Us -- sexually harassing. Comments that she found offense to comments that were not taken. Seriously by the drill instructors or the chiefs. -- -- she filed a lawsuit and the lawsuit you know it was a considerable monetary award and part of this was she was also given. You know based on some testing scores -- not the opportunity to change or correct the testing scores like the male firefighters had an opportunity to do. She was given an opportunity to resign. And so under that sort of pressure should resign retain. An attorney. They litigated it she won. Based on -- the sexual harassing. Comments were were -- -- she was in you know protected activity -- a woman. Conduct unbecoming on the drill instructors. And and and we like Procter and the other day. And on the very issue -- she says that they're moving towards. About a million dollars in attorneys' fees you -- your unfortunately I wasn't so I have to take a bus. And but it was it was interesting because when I read the news tonight this whole interest the whole situation interest in me. And so I read the local news you papers and -- hammering. Her and the fact she actually sued. And in the city in question knows doesn't have any money. And her you know and it -- same thing was talked about this morning in the keynote address -- in the assault against the fire service because of budgetary issues and how to -- you know -- our department. But I think it was activities on her part. You know try to be a good recruit. You know was. Could have -- a -- for class but for the fact that you know she was harassed sexually harassed I think some of the comments. Related about -- single motherhood. Her inability to do the job. She was given you know the fair and equal opportunity to collector scorers like -- male counterparts were. And so it was just too much to -- About things we do in part we know generally. Just having one of the -- a Civil Rights Act. Prevents employers from discriminating. In various ways against. On their employees based on race sex gender -- -- that tenacity sexual -- -- -- Army and raise you can't discriminate are in terms of employment compensation. Job terms at setter -- Promotions hiring expiring lease transfers. How -- -- what are some things we're doing in the fire service. Where if you could walk up to the guy got slapped around -- can't do that but we keep doing it like the comment that's made and all of a sudden. It's you know multi million dollars current let me ask you what are some. Think you're doing what I I don't think these guys are thinking things through and in as -- saying -- the federal employment was pertained to the fire department in the typical fire fighter doesn't think of himself. As a representative of the fire department in fact sometimes there's a polarization with a plan put it thinks that the chief and the administration is the enemy. And in this particular case and employment discrimination in particular sexual harassment. The firefighter is -- represented above the fire department. And when the firefighters says something or does some -- even even well -- -- just joking around him and that's typical type of stuff that happens it's -- department's. This consequences to the city it's as if the cities is doing that and. You know not familiar with all of the details of Fresno case but one other things is right so -- well that. Hmmm I thought -- us the ways that some of the drill instructors in the -- yard. Will provide tough love almost like a drill sergeant in the military would provide tough love. Trying to encourage the the training trying to weather the weather is a tough physical past -- stretching oppose wind lifting raising -- latter. But in trying to encourage them to pushed them beyond may be what they think they capable of and how easy it would be for someone to sort of flip that around it make it seem that. That is really harass mistress further evidence of -- again I don't know that's. What happened in Fresno what certainly I don't think firefighters think like that. And sometimes -- just sort of mimicking the behavior did drill. Instructors back when they were treaties and you know I think -- in today's age we could really you don't really think those things through. I think there's a lot of it has to do and I talked to her about this was wasn't just skill aspects -- -- she was well skilled and you -- -- certainly could keep up with their -- -- parts and all the physical activity was just -- comments. -- little biting comments that you know asking -- dates I mean there's just as whole. You know wraps of these commentaries that -- -- To hurt -- it you know drill instructors. And but I think physically. You know according to her and according to all reports she was you know at par with their counterparts in and chipped up just about supervisors responsibility the department's responsibility once the stuff is happening. Back up -- second. Because what. On Wednesday. -- -- a couple cases where people have backgrounds come to particular department they have been on other departments. Or they've gone through eight and academy someplace else and -- passed. And then they come through onto the department and either -- store as appropriate -- house or they go through -- departments recruit academy. And -- sudden you have some -- who's pushing that person because it's a personality you're not thinking they want. Do recruit to do with the way that department does -- they should that person can't cut it we gotta push in order way to -- You've already run into -- boarding pass you've already been successful other places so feeds -- didn't of that attitude about. You know these -- an issue here -- that that person. And so I think from a supervisory. Standpoint you know if if you have the responsible for -- recruit class you have to try to be very objective and and and stick to you what or your -- going to be candy. Do it can not be very careful what you comment. If you're worse is supervisor that things are going on. Negative and you permit that happen. Now we've got real problem that part that's what it really starts to escalate when people become aware of things and don't do anything to it to try to do to mitigate. Those effects -- to eliminate. The problem. So now you know most of -- radio shows we tried it makes suggestions to people come on what they should do. Right because it's not just sexual harassment against it you racial harassment to be anything. Yeah gay gender religion and whatever it is so. I guess I would like to get from you let's give our. Listeners viewers in this case. What -- they have to do in their department now that we know they're all part of their department supervisors can. Create liability by not acting what do we do and I guess my first one is we gotta have a policy that's what should the policy say let's start with. Well I think policy intriguing but you know I think that we have standards. For what we're gonna teach people. But we don't have much in the -- standards in how we're gonna teach. And in particular in your career academies and I would assume so maybe in some of the volunteer academies also. That there is the a lack of training of the instructors not not in the subject matter not in the knowledge of some of what they need to do. I'll put in the way that they need to deliver the training -- and did it in particular. Some of the comments that are made the tough love type of comments and and you know some some people think that. You don't think they -- if there -- drill instructor at boot camp in the military and that is not going to fly in in civilian life it's just not. Maybe it did twenty years ago thirty years ago fifty years ago. On it may be if you -- -- -- white male this is terrible -- at a pivotal white male academy. On the net that's one thing but that's not the reality anymore you know and so you -- that that there has to be. -- policies and procedures geared toward. What types both. -- motivation. And what takes the comments were appropriate which on anything that's -- anyway sexual -- or discriminatory. Against you know ethnicity religion or any of those things. Have got to be off the table. So maybe a very specific code of conduct for instructors code of conduct for training its code of conduct for supervisors saying what they will -- will not allow. Clinton in the supervises -- -- -- -- -- different you know it's one thing for the firefighter or colleague to make a biting comment. That same comment -- in the presence of the supervisor who does nothing about it. Com is taken to a different wealth or supervisor makes the comment actually -- yes absolutely. -- -- it's you know you're totally cottage meat -- just one code of conduct its you know you're not to discriminate American deuce and then it's a matter of enforcement his department as a whole whether you're training operations wherever -- -- it forces. -- -- everything from hiring to promotion to mean it's it's gotta be. -- didn't fire department has to be cognizant of all the potential harms are out there and do whatever can to trust us because we have now very -- that -- fireside sort. And so so we've got training we've got policy supervision. -- anything else why -- -- I did I just -- in the practical application is putting all of that together. And an understanding what the ramifications are in and word into the hundred millions of dollars of lawsuits. Every year and discrimination sexual harassment and is generally firefighter suing the fire departments very. Little monetary loss goes out to somebody. It's complaining about we burned their house -- or you know or some other egregious action -- may have been conducted by the are department of people. Feel they were harmed in some war some way. But what we're seeing as there's a lot of and we're killing ourselves basically financially. Because we don't know what the rules are and if we know what the rules are we do have the conduct codes in place and we do all the training we're still violating I mean. Because I think you know when those sort of situations. You know. I think of recruits particularly want to get -- law. And so they'll laugh and they take it in. And so noted that -- encourage you know that. -- instructor training instructor to continue to sort of conduct because nobody's telling me stop. And as soon -- -- somebody tells and to stop you know under the under the law other supposed to stop and then. You don't try to mitigate this thing you know the lowest level possible it's almost too late and -- stop -- this is way beyond the -- there and then so then people get offended. And then you know vendor. Because they made a complaint there there may be outcasts and so it recruited -- an -- as it is -- -- super a lot of these. You know recruit so I think it's just awareness and application and then and then just being cognizant of the fact that. -- we're dealing with people they have sensitivities they have. Issues that you know they bring into -- academy and -- -- -- life. That you know just in February so let's see some closing comments -- a short scheduled for today and we start -- you wrap up 32 thoughts. I think asserted 32 comment is you know just be aware and and -- some initial complaint I think you need to be fairly aggressive in addressing the complaint and try to reach some resolution. The number of years ago it FDIC there was a big -- about back to basics and people said you don't. We need to be studying truck and engine company operation so let's look at people killed we don't need to worry about. -- harassment issues. And I I don't think they're mutually exclusive. -- I think we can spend -- time when the engine and truck company issues but I think we need to do this as well. And people to understand all the may not be a life and death situation and -- of firefighter getting killed that financial impact from that that lawsuit can have. Almost a greater impact on the department as a single Horford vessel I think we really have to focus on all of these issues and make sure departments -- world. -- but I think that we spent a great deal of time focusing on how book on what we're gonna teach. In terms of training and I think we gotta focus at least as much as much attention. On how we're gonna teach. And I I would say we gotta change the culture -- serves I -- I know we're up. Generally you know male driven testosterone driven it's okay to be up everybody in our -- you know because it's fun but we got to change our culture a little bit. It for all the reasons you're saying we just can't afford this anymore. I want to thank everybody for now watching this. -- -- not fire service -- radio we hope that you'll join us every couple weeks on firings near duck down. Behalf of John -- hurt myself that you.

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