Imagine a woman who aspires her entire life to earn her dream job. She hopes to help others and is dedicated to her profession and community. Then it all comes crashing down, not because of her behavior, but due to co-worker sexual harassment, intimidation and supervisory neglect.
Bullying doesn’t just happen on the playground.
Man or woman, it is not easy to become a firefighter. Applicants are put through rigorous training, and only after passing strenuous competitive tests before then can become a member of the Phoenix Fire Department. They put their lives on the line to protect people. It’s only reasonable to assume the people they work with will have their back.
That was not the case for a female firefighter who sued the Phoenix Fire Department charging years-long sexual harassment. Her case was settled and paid out; city attorneys believed the city would lose, costing taxpayers even more.
Here’s what we know:
• A male firefighter admitted to attorneys to breaking-and-entering into the female firefighter’s private quarters, later corroborated by fire management. A police commander said doing that would be a crime. Fire management never notified police. As often is the case, what people in supervisory positions did or didn’t do after an infraction often is as troubling as the actual occurrence.
• Continued harassment occurred over several years.
• The actions convinced city attorneys the lawsuit had merit and needed to be settled.
I believe everyone, man or woman, has the right to be treated with respect in the workplace. Managers need to be adequately trained on how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. No one should be intimidated or harassed on the job.
Some good has been achieved since this case came to light. The processes for reporting and addressing sexual harassment are being updated, and management is being trained on these new measures and what constitutes harassment so these situations can be handled before anyone is treated like this female firefighter. The City Council will soon vote on a outside auditor to see if fire management practices are adequate or need improvement. A deeper look will determine if this is infrequent or systemic.
Firefighter union leaders vilifying those of us who demand this be explored and addressed will not improve the city or the department. There is no political gain taking on the most powerful union in the state.
This is not about the Phoenix Fire Department. This is about women being able to work in a safe environment, free of behavior that keeps them from wanting to pursue their dreams. This is about a poisonous environment that was allowed to persist, to the detriment of one woman’s career and peace of mind.
I will continue to speak up for them until the problems are explored and fixed.
• Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio represents District 6, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 262-7491.