The Washington Post
Female firefighters faced retaliation, ACLU claims
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.