Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... March 2018 Issue Number 212

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  

The Conference of International Women in Fire and Emergency Services will be held in Fairfax County, VA May 24-26, 2018.

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

It Should Never Come to This

The Justice Department has recently sued the City of Houston over sex discrimination claims by two female firefighters. The allegations, which go back over ten years, state that the women's male coworkers tormented them by urinating on the women's bathroom walls and sinks and scrawling vulgar slurs on their belongings. The suit also refers to claims that women were shunned in the station, had communications links tampered with so that they would miss calls, and had death threats made against them when they complained.

The complaints that led to this investigation are all centered on one particular station. The department did ultimately investigate the allegations but was never able to identify the perpetrator(s) of the harassment.

So just to be clear: the department did not dispute that the harassment had taken place against the two women, they were just unable to find out exactly who did it.

While city officials, union officers and other interested parties argue over whether the investigation was thorough enough or whether firefighters were cooperative enough, the fact is that now the Department of Justice is in the mix. And that is never good news for an organization.

Big problems require big solutions. There were at least nine formal complaints made to management by the women affected before any action was taken. This problem escalated over time. But it didn't have to.

By definition, harassment is a pattern of behavior. It takes a very severe single incident to meet the standards of illegal harassment.

That's an opportunity for organizations, because it means that they have time to do their jobs, to identify bad actors and correct inappropriate behavior before it reaches a crisis state.

That did not happen in Houston. That fact points to a critical failure in leadership at multiple levels. And now the DOJ is coming to town. It did not have to come to this.

Source: Houston Chronicle, March 1, 2018


News Brief

Despite previous recent statements that he had no intention of resigning, Fairfax County, VA Fire Chief Richard Bowers has since announced his retirement. This decision comes in the wake of complaints about harassment and discrimination towards female firefighters on the department, and the suicide in 2016 of a woman firefighter who had been bullied online. Most recently, Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley, the highest ranking women on the Fairfax County Fire Department Women's Committee, resigned her position on that committee, citing the lack of meaningful commitment to change as the reason for her departure.

Source:, February 16, 2018


Sexual Harassment Update

Harassment by Subordinates

A large settlement was recently made to a fire officer from Rhode Island, as a result of a harassment and discrimination lawsuit she brought against her department. The lawsuit cited multiple forms of discriminatory treatment and harassment, including harassment by the officer's subordinates.

If harassment is about abuse of power (and it is) then it may seem counterintuitive that an officer could be harassed by those who report to her. But then, there are many kinds of power. The lawsuit described behavior that included verbal taunts, malicious gossip, and the refusal to follow orders. When the officer sought help in dealing with these issues, she was refused.

Power is not always positional. Those in the dominant group, who know that the existing system will ultimately support them, have the latitude to act out in ways not normally acceptable in the officer/firefighter relationship.

This type of behavior can qualify as illegal harassment as a form of hostile environment harassment. While quid pro quo harassment, a form of extortion, can only be carried out by someone with the power to make employment decisions, hostile environment harassment may be done by anyone. And although an employer has a higher standard of liability for harassment by supervisors, employers may be liable for peer or subordinate harassment as well, if they knew of the situation and did nothing to correct it.

Source:, January 29, 2018




© Linda F. Willing, 2018