The long-running saga of sexual harassment in the City of Westbrook Fire Department has come to an end with large settlement payments to two female firefighters. Under the settlement agreement, firefighter Kathy Rogers is set to receive about $480,000, while her colleague, Lisa Theberge, will receive about $370,000.
Rogers and Theberge filed complaints against the city with the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2008 alleging more than 100 separate incidents of sexual harassment involving 20 fire department employees. Last October, they filed a lawsuit against the city, the mayor, and the city manager in federal district court in Portland. They alleged that the city failed to take prompt and effective action to address their numerous allegations of sexual harassment and that they suffered retaliation for complaining.
These large settlement payments serve as a reminder that employers can face very real financial consequences from allegations of harassment and retaliation in the workplace. An effective and strategic response to harassment issues is essential to limit your organization’s liability. Although Westbrook recently has implemented significant organizational changes in response to this lawsuit, the city and its insurance carrier no doubt regret that more forceful and effective action wasn’t taken earlier to address the alleged harassment.
We’ll have more analysis of this case and the lessons to be learned from it in the October issue of Maine Employment Law Letter.