A former female Fairfax County firefighter, who originally was awarded $307,000 in attorney’s fees accumulated during a sexual harassment lawsuit against a male co-worker, has settled for a lesser, undisclosed amount.
The original case was heard last year by U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris, who delivered a 61-page opinion and awarded Mary Getts Bland $250,000.
In his opinion, Cacheris reprimanded the corporate culture of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, and wrote that “a reasonable juror could find that [the department] knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take effective action to stop it.”
The county later appealed the award, and Cacheris eventually reduced it to $50,000, also awarding Bland $307,000 in attorney and other fees associated with the case.
The fees also were appealed by the county, resulting in the recent undisclosed settlement.
“It was significantly less,” said Bland’s attorney, Ellen K. Renaud
In her case, Bland, a firefighter who retired from the department in 2010, outlined a work environment that included repeated sexual harassment, starting with her recruitment in 2001 by Lt. Timothy D. Young.
Young allegedly asked her during her interview if she “enjoyed being watched while she had sex,” according to court documents.
In court, Bland said several harassment episodes were instigated by Young during her employment from 2002 to 2008 — including one in 2007 in which she alleged Young walked past her with an eight-foot metal “pike pole” and said to her “this looks like it would hurt.”
"The interview and pike pole incidents, in particular, are more than merely boorish or callous behavior and well-beyond workplace banter or joking," wrote Cacheris in his ruling.
Young could not be reached for comment.
“This case was not against Tim Young, it was against the county for turning a blind eye to sexual harassment,” Renaud said. “The jury saw a woman who was distraught by sexual harassment and a threat of sexual assault for years. The fire chiefs made clear at the trial that they do not view protecting women from sexual harassment and threats of sexual assault as something that needs to be done ‘for the good of the department.’”
Fairfax County spokesman Merni Fitzgerald declined to comment on the case.
In September, the county also settled an additional sexual harassment claim from Stacey Bailey — another former firefighter who sued for $6 million amid claims of repeated sexual harassment by Young and others, as well as physical injuries she said she incurred during her employment at the hands of co-workers attempting to force her to quit.
The amount of that settlement also was undisclosed.
Court records state Young was Bailey’s supervisor when Getts claimed in 2008 that Young sexually harassed her.
“The county did not intervene in that harassment … Young continued to supervise Bailey, emboldened by the fact that the Fire Department would not punish him when women complained about his harassment,” court records state.
Amid various alleged sexually-charged verbal abuses by Young and others, Bailey also alleged in her suit metal shavings were repeatedly placed into her work boots by male co-workers, causing her feet to be “repeatedly sliced open and bleed through her socks.”
She also claims to have suffered permanent damage to her nasal passages, trachea, esophagus and lungs after allegedly being instructed by Lt. Victor Rocha to stand over bio-diesel flames and fumes for about 12 to 15 minutes without protective equipment.
Court records state Bailey suffers chronic lung infections as a result of the incident, and “will now be on medications for the rest of her life.”
John Niemiec, president of the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics union, said he was saddened by the claims in the two lawsuits.
“Those series of events were really unfortunate,” he said. “Both our membership and members of our executive board took them very seriously. We do not embrace or condone those types of behaviors. It is just a very unfortunate set of circumstances.”