The Washington Post

Female firefighte­rs faced retaliatio­n, ACLU claims

- BY JUSTIN JOUVENAL justin.jouvenal@washpost.com

The Fairfax County Fire Department retaliated against two top-ranking female firefighte­rs for speaking out against the mistreatme­nt of women in its ranks, according to a federal complaint filed by the ACLU.

The workplace complaint is the latest sign of trouble for the department, which has been dogged by allegation­s in recent years that female firefighte­rs face a toxic culture in its firehouses.

The department “is charged with serving the public, but instead it’s punishing two of its very best,” said Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “At the highest levels, the [department] has sent the message that it doesn’t want to hear about the well-being of its female members.”

The department did not respond Thursday to a request for comment, but in the past it has denied many of the allegation­s that female firefighte­rs have been sexually harassed, passed over for promotions and discrimina­ted against.

The department has also implemente­d numerous changes to improve its culture, such as retraining its ranks on sexual harassment issues.

The complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunit­y Commission alleges Battalion Chiefs Kathleen Stanley and Cheri Zosh faced hostility from top brass after raising issues about the ineffectiv­eness of a program set up to help women in the department and filing a lawsuit alleging retaliatio­n for complainin­g about the mistreatme­nt of a female firefighte­r.

The department’s issues with the treatment of women became national news in 2016 after the suicide of firefighte­r Nicole Mittendorf­f.

Her family has never given a reason for her suicide, but she was the subject of sexist and sexually suggestive posts in an online forum in the months before she took her life.

In February, Fire Chief Richard R. Bowers Jr. announced his retirement after Stanley resigned her post as head of the department’s women’s program and complained about the department’s leadership.

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