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Former firefighter/paramedic sues NKF&R for sexual harassment
POULSBO — Several male supervisors at North Kitsap Fire & Rescue are accused in a lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court of frequently making gender-biased remarks and sexual comments about women — including a firefighter’s daughter.
Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton declined a request on Sept. 27 from NKF&R’s lawyer that the lawsuit be dropped.
“Clearly I’m not going to grant the motion to dismiss,” Dalton said. “It’s clear to me the plaintiff intends to pursue her complaint.”
Tamara Dotson was a firefighter for NKF&R from January 1999 to July 2009 — first as a volunteer firefighter, and from November 2001 to July 2009 as a full-time firefighter/paramedic. She is now a physician’s assistant.
She filed a claim with NKF&R in January 2010 and filed the lawsuit two months later. She seeks attorney’s fees, reimbursement of costs, and “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable.”
In her 13-page complaint, Dotson alleges the “primary offenders” — Ken Lemay, Sean Moran and Toby Schultz — “often bragged about their ability to sexually arouse women,” and Schultz allegedly used ethnic slurs in reference to an Asian woman and an intern of Puerto Rican ancestry.
At one time, Schultz allegedly referred to attractive women as “sexual chocolate.” Lemay allegedly exposed himself to Dotson while in a station kitchen, and in other instances allegedly made racist and sexually charged comments.
The lawsuit also alleges that Dotson had to use a restroom and shower used by men because no female restroom and shower facility was made available, that she was subjected to retaliation after having knee surgery, that she was denied training opportunities, and that her requests to be transferred to another department were denied.
NKF&R denied the allegations in a response filed in July 2010. Contacted Sept. 30, NKF&R’s attorney, Wade Neal of Tacoma, said, “I can’t make any comment” regarding the allegations. Dotson is represented by Thomas S. Boothe of Portland. He also declined to comment.
Lemay, Moran and Schultz were captains at the time. Lemay and Moran are now battalion chiefs; Schultz is training officer.
NKF&R Chief Dan Smith said he became aware of the allegations after the claim was filed.
“Once we became aware of those allegations, we did investigate it and brought in some additional training so our employees know that that kind of behavior, if it did happen, that that’s not tolerated,” he said.
Smith said an outside investigator found “some of those alleged comments weren’t necessarily directed at [Dotson],” and that some of the alleged comments “were things she heard either second-, third- or fourth-hand.”
In the complaint, Dotson claims she was the subject or witness of harassing behavior in approximately 14 instances.
HR director Cindy Moran, whose husband is one of the accused, said “we chose to counsel and educate” those accused in the complaint. She said they were advised that the department has a no-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment. But no one was disciplined because “the investigation was inconclusive.”
Moran said one of the problems in the investigation was the allegations — the earliest incident dates to 2001 — weren’t made by Dotson “until she didn’t want to be here anymore.” Moran called the leveling of the allegations “the blast effect.”
“It made it a lot to deal with, to sift through, to try to find out what transpired,” Moran said. “Some it was so old, [Dotson] was having a hard time remembering some of the details. The details were gone.”
Moran said the department “responded as soon as we were made aware of the issue.” The department hired an outside educator to conduct training in sexual discrimination and harassment, and employees now participate in online training and are required to take and pass a test annually.
Moran said the department has “always had a harassment policy in place.” Employees can address inappropriate behavior or comments with the offending co-worker “and if that’s not comfortable, take it to their supervisor.”
In her complaint, Dotson names approximately six times that she complained to, or the behavior was witnessed by, a supervisor.
NKF&R spokeswoman Michele Laboda joined the department as a volunteer in 1994 and became a full-time paid employee in January 1997. She said she hasn’t heard gender-biased remarks or sexual comments about women “in a very long time,” adding that the department provides regular training on sexual harassment.
“I think people become more sophisticated as the organization grows,” she said, adding that the environment in a volunteer department was once not unlike a bunch of guys “sitting around a pool table.” But, she said, “Their character changed as the department changed.”
Chief Smith said Sept. 30, “I’ve been in the fire service for 32 years and I’ve seen a lot of things change. I’m not going to say we’re a squeaky clean organization, but things that used to happen 20 years ago are not acceptable now. People might say things, but are we making changes? We’re making changes all the time.”