A former firefighter is suing the Clinton Fire Department for alleged discrimination and sexual harassment, claiming firefighters made sexually explicit comments, routinely walked in on her while she was showering and changing clothes in the women’s bathroom, and appeared in the station naked or wearing only underwear.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in 2nd District Court, Shelley Drescher claims that she was denied promotion in retaliation for her complaints of harassment and a sexist culture in the department where she worked as a part-time firefighter from 2008 to 2013.
Crew members "would often talk about their sexual fantasies involving female patients and discuss incidents in which they tried to look down the shirts of female patients," the lawsuit states. Sexual jokes were rampant, particularly at a sexual harassment seminar where a deputy chief "proceeded to tell a number of crude sex jokes, and said that conduct constituting sexual harassment was okay so long as the chiefs did not catch [employees] doing it," according to the complaint.
A captain hung pictures of women in lingerie in the station’s day room, and the department had a subscription to Maxim magazine, copies of which were left around the station to display "scantily clad sexualized women," the suit claims.
"On a virtual daily basis, male personnel would walk around the department in nothing but their underwear, and on some occasions, completely naked," the lawsuit states.
Drescher claims she reported the harassment to an assistant fire chief and filed a formal complaint with Clinton’s city manager, but no action was taken.
Instead, the lawsuit states, her attempts to be promoted to full-time firefighter were thwarted as fire officials allegedly doctored her scores on skills tests. When she first applied for a position, then-chief Floyd Peterson told her she could not apply because her husband was a firefighter in the department, the suit alleges.
In her second attempt, her husband learned that Chief Peterson "intended to tamper with the applicant test scores and place Mrs. Drescher last on the scoring list because of her marital status," the lawsuit states. Peterson allegedly admitted that Drescher would be ranked last no matter how high she scored, and when the rankings were posted — with Drescher at the bottom — Peterson refused to let her see her actual test scores while other candidates were given access, Drescher claims.
The third time Drescher applied, the job was offered to a male applicant who had less experience and fewer certifications, the complaint alleges.
In her fourth attempt, a captain told Drescher that the interview panel had promised the position to another candidate "regardless of his test scores, and that he simply had to complete the necessary paperwork to get the job," the lawsuit states. That candidate not only had less experience and fewer certifications than Drescher, but also didn’t meet the minimum hiring requirements for the position, the suit claims. The deputy chief also allegedly admitted to lowering her test scores and raising the other candidates’ scores to make them "look better." During the fire skills test, the two male evaluators told Drescher to skip some steps — and then docked her score when she followed their instructions, the lawsuit claims.
Drescher’s lawsuit names Clinton City, the fire department and several department officials, describing their conduct as "so outrageous and intolerable so as to offend the generally accepted standards of decency and morality."
Drescher also has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has not released its findings, said Clinton City Manager Dennis Cluff.
"The city obviously feels we didn’t do anything wrong, but people don’t always see it that way," Cluff said. He would not comment further on Drescher’s allegations.
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