Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
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Grand Lake, CO
80447
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Consider This... July 2017 Issue Number 204

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

Fire-Rescue International will be held July 26-29 in Charlotte, NC.

Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.

 

In the News

The "Boys Will Be Boys" Excuse

A former firefighter has filed a lawsuit against her department, alleging pervasive harassment. Her complaint details incidents where firefighters used racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs, openly viewed and commented on pornography in the station, deliberately exposed their genitals to the plaintiff, and consistently demeaned women on the job.

When the woman reported this behavior to her captain, he dismissed it by saying that the other firefighters were just being "immature."

During a family night event for new recruits, a fire captain from a different department told the families that their relatives were likely to be subjected to "some practical jokes" that some might see as hazing or bullying. He went on to say that "Millennials have thin skin," and "boys will be boys."

One of the parents present wrote a letter of complaint to the fire chief, saying she was "shocked and appalled" at the "callous comments" made by a department head, especially in light of a recent firefighter's suicide that might have been linked to bullying at work.

This is 2017. These are large, respected fire departments. Yet still people within these organizations felt it appropriate to use the "boys will be boys" excuse for inappropriate conduct.

Using this excuse not only allows bad practice to continue with impunity. It also demeans the men within the department who also condemn this bad behavior, and undermines the professional reputation not only of these individual fire departments, but the fire service generally.

It is people in leadership roles who are enabling this behavior to continue. And only those in leadership roles can make it stop.

The fire service should not be based on a standard of "boys." The fire service needs real men (and women) in these critical roles.

Sources: WUSA, May 5, 2017 and WSET, June 5, 2107

 

News Brief

The New York City Fire Department has a record number of applicants in its current hiring pool: over 72,000. Of these applicants, 63% of the applicants are African-American, Latino or Asian, compared to 48% in the last round of applications from four years ago. The hiring pool also includes approximately 9,000 women, or 13% of the total. That’s up from 6%, or 3,500, from the prior filing period.

Source: The New York Daily News, June 23, 2017

 

Sexual Harassment Update

ADEA and Small Fire Departments

Are small fire departments with fewer than twenty full time employees subject to the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)? Yes, according to a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case was brought by two firefighters with the Mt. Lemmon Fire Department, a small agency in Arizona. The firefighters were 46 and 54 when they were fired in 2009. They were the oldest firefighters on the department at the time.

The fire department received summary judgment in their favor at the district court level, but that ruling was reversed by the higher court on appeal. The heart of the ruling was in the interpretation of language in the law.

The ADEA is a federal law which prohibits employment discrimination for workers who are over age forty. Like other employment laws, the ADEA is written with some conditions about who is specifically affected. In particular, the law says that employers are defined as "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, and any interstate agency, but such term does not include the United States, or a corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States."

The fire department contended that this language exempted them as an employer because they did not meet the minimum employee standard. The plaintiffs claimed that the department was included in the second part of the definition.

Ultimately the ruling came down to an interpretation of what the word "also" really means. In this case, the second half of the definition of employer was taken to be separate and in addition to, rather than descriptive of the first half of the definition, which required twenty employees to be included.

Other courts have interpreted this statute differently, but this case will provide a precedent for the Ninth Circuit. Any further clarification would have to occur at the level of the US Supreme Court.

Source: JOHN GUIDO DENNIS RANKIN v. MOUNT LEMMON FIRE DISTRICT Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-15030

 

 

 

© Linda F. Willing, 2017