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Request for more time denied in NKF&R lawsuit
POULSBO — A Kitsap County Superior Court judge denied a request by North Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s attorney for more time to submit materials in response to a sexual-harassment lawsuit by a former firefighter/paramedic.
On Dec. 13, Judge Jeanette Dalton also took under advisement a request from the plaintiff’s attorney that monetary sanctions be imposed for alleged delays.
Tamara Dotson accuses several NKF&R officers of frequently making gender-biased remarks and sexual comments about women, including a firefighter’s daughter. She seeks attorney’s fees, reimbursement of costs, and “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable.”
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.
In the complaint, Dotson claims she was the subject or witness of harassing behavior in approximately 14 instances. NKF&R denied the allegations in a response filed in July 2010.
NKF&R is represented by Wade Neal of Tacoma. Dotson is represented by Thomas S. Boothe of Portland. Both lawyers have declined to comment.
According to court records, the case was stalled while Dotson sought employment and then attended school to become a physician’s assistant. Neal requested on Sept. 27 that the lawsuit be dropped; Dalton denied the request. “It’s clear to me the plaintiff intends to pursue her complaint,” she said at the time.
Boothe has accused Neal of not expeditiously responding to the plaintiff’s requests for discovery materials — information that is essential for the preparation of the requesting party's case and that the other party alone knows or possesses. Neal’s response: More than “10,000 pages of discovery materials and extensive discovery responses detailing NKFR’s specific knowledge of the facts underlying Dotson’s claims have been provided.” However, he admits that the defense erred in 2010 when it stated that 74 witnesses were listed as having potential knowledge of Dotson’s claims.
However, on further review, “many of the listed people were not named in Dotson’s complaint or factual allegations, so in order to refine discovery, they were not interviewed,” Neal wrote to the court. “… [Defense] counsel apologizes to the Court for mistakenly inserting that figure.”
In an earlier interview with the Herald, NKF&R Chief Dan Smith said he became aware of the allegations only 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.”
HR director Cindy Moran, whose husband is one of the accused, said in an earlier interview “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 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.”