Baltimore County, Maryland, has agreed to settle charges brought against its Fire Department for $275,000 after the department’s leaders failed to address a case of sexual harassment. The U.S. Department of Justice announced the settlement agreement, which aims to provide relief and compensation for the victims of sexual harassment, including 11 women.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on September 5, 2023, alleges that a male firefighter solicited and distributed naked pictures of female coworkers in June 2017. The photos were posted on an online message board, and despite being notified of the harassment, the Fire Department did not take immediate and corrective action to address the hostile work environment.
The investigation and response by the department were deemed inadequate, as interviews with employees did not begin until November 2017, more than four months after the department became aware of the actions. The male firefighter accused of distributing the images submitted his resignation, which was accepted without considering whether to reject it and terminate his employment. The department also failed to interview the man about his solicitation and distribution of the photographs.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, if approved by the court, the Baltimore County Fire Department will overhaul its process for investigating complaints of sexual harassment, provide periodic sexual harassment training to its employees, and conduct a workplace climate survey. The county will also pay $275,000 to compensate the female employees affected by the harassment.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke emphasized the importance of addressing sexual harassment in the firefighting industry, stating that it is critical to efforts to bring more women into a profession where they have historically faced exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination.
U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland highlighted the need for workplaces to foster respect and dignity for all employees, stating that the mission to protect civil rights extends to sexual harassment.
The settlement agreement aims to ensure that Baltimore County employees feel safe, respected, and valued in their workplace.