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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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