The U.S. Department of Justice and Baltimore County on Tuesday announced they had reached an agreement to resolve charges by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that accused the county fire department of violating federal law by subjecting female employees to a hostile work environment.
According to a DOJ news release, a male employee of the fire department distributed nude and other inappropriate photographs of female department employees to other co-workers, solicited such photographs from co-workers and posted the pictures on a social media website. The county, in a statement, refers to the man as a former employee.
The complaint further alleged that the department “failed to promptly and thoroughly investigate the harassment and failed to adequately communicate with the victims as the harassment came to light,” according to the DOJ.
Baltimore County said in a statement that the original complaint covers activity from June 2017, before County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. took office.
As part of this new agreement, county officials said, the DOJ acknowledged that the current administration in Baltimore County is “committed to developing improved policies, procedures, and trainings” to resolve the issues the complaint alleged.
“All employees have a fundamental right to be free from harassment of any kind in the workplace,” Olszewski said in a statement. “While this incident occurred prior to our administration, we are entering into this agreement with our federal partners to ensure Baltimore County continues working to promote a safe, supportive workplace free from discrimination in all its forms.”
If the consent decree is approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the county fire department will have to overhaul its process for investigating complaints of sexual harassment, provide periodic sexual harassment training to its employees and conduct a workplace survey to gather information in an effort to keep the workplace free of harassment, according to the DOJ.
“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 U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s civil rights division.
The county will also pay a total of $275,000 to compensate 11 female employees who were harmed by the harassment, according to the county and the Justice Department.
The announcement of the agreement comes on the heels of a no-confidence vote by members of the county’s firefighters union with respect to the department’s leadership. While union members said they approved of Chief Joanne Rund, they said they did not have confidence in Assistant Chief Jennifer Utz and Deputy Chief Francis DiPaula Jr.
The union also voted on Assistant Chief Paul Lurz, but the results of that vote were redacted from a report on the vote because Lurz has since retired.
In a statement, Rund said she fully supports the steps outlined in the agreement with the federal government.
“Every employee deserves to feel safe in the workplace and I am proud of the progress we have started under my tenure to diversify our department and strengthen our culture,” she said.