The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with Baltimore County, Maryland, for significant relief and compensation for victims of sexual harassment. The settlement resolves the department’s complaint alleging that the county, through the Baltimore County Fire Department (BCFD), violated Title VII by subjecting several female employees to a hostile work environment on the basis of their sex. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and religion and prohibits retaliation against employees for opposing discriminatory employment practices.
“Women deserve protection from sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the workplace, and this lawsuit and consent decree demonstrate the department’s commitment to that principle,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Like any other employer, fire departments must take prompt and appropriate actions to correct an ongoing hostile work environment. Addressing sexual harassment in the firefighting industry is critical to efforts to bring more women into a profession where they have faced historic rates of exclusion, marginalization and discrimination.”
According to the department’s complaint, filed today in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, several female employees were subjected to a hostile work environment when a male coworker distributed nude and other inappropriate photographs of female BCFD employees to other coworkers, solicited such photographs from coworkers and posted the photos on a social media site. The complaint further alleges that BCFD failed to take prompt and appropriate actions to correct the ongoing hostile work environment. As alleged, BCFD failed to promptly and thoroughly investigate the harassment and failed to adequately communicate with the victims as the harassment came to light, perpetuating the hostile work environment that the female employees faced.
Under the terms of the consent decree, if approved by the court, BCFD will overhaul its process for investigating complaints of sexual harassment, provide periodic sexual harassment training to its employees and conduct a workplace climate survey to gather information to aid in efforts to keep the workplace free of harassment. The county will also pay $275,000 to compensate female employees that were harmed by the harassment.
“Every workplace should foster respect and dignity for all employees, period,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland. “Our mission to protect civil rights extends to sexual harassment and employers should be on notice that we will vigorously enforce the laws. We are pleased that Baltimore County has agreed to take comprehensive steps to ensure that their employees feel safe, respected and valued at their workplace.”
This case stems from a charge of discrimination by a commissioner for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and investigated by the EEOC’s Baltimore office. The EEOC investigated the charge and found reasonable cause to believe that BCFD violated Title VII. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charge to the Justice Department.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace too often goes uncorrected,” said Director Rosemarie Rhodes of the EEOC Baltimore Office. “Allowing such behavior to go unchecked when it affects one victim of sexual harassment is too much, let alone when it affects at least eleven victims. It’s critical to remind victims that sexual harassment is against the law, they do not have to tolerate it at work, and they are protected when they complain.”
Employees with complaints of sexual harassment can report them to their local EEOC office or their respective state or local fair employment practices agencies. The contact information for each local EEOC office can be found at www.eeoc.gov/field-office.