Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... August/September 2001 Issue Number 26

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the area of sexual harassment, diversity management and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events

Leading Diverse Communities Beyond Conflict: September 15-16, 2001 Linda Willing will be teaching this course at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsbug, MD during the State Weekend program .

Women in Firefighting: Walking the Legal Tightrope: October 11-12, 2001. Sponsored by the Cleveland State University law school, this conference will cover topics including recruitment, training, testing, and promotion. Contact or call 216-687-3947 for more information.

Leadership Training Seminar March 8-10, 2002, San Diego Bahia Resort. Sponsored by Women in the Fire Service. For more information call 608-233-4879 or email

Women Chief Officers' Luncheon: August 25, 2001 at Fire-Rescue International in New Orleans. Call 630-990-2390 for more information.

In the News

Segregation Among Children is Increasing

The United States is becoming a more segregated nation, even as its diverse populations increase. This is one conclusion that has been drawn from the analysis of the most current census data as well as a recent study by Harvard University. In particular, these studies found that the nation's children are growing up in increasingly segregated environments and schools, compared to the conditions of a decade ago.

The analysis of the census data, conducted by the State University of New York at Albany, found that although black and white adults live in slightly more integrated communities compared to ten years ago, white children are much more likely to grow up separately from those of other races. These figures reflect the trend for white families to leave urban and racially mixed areas to raise their children in largely white suburbs. Increasing segregation among children was measured in cities across the country. The top ten most segregated cities for children were: Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Newark, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, Birmingham, and St. Louis. The only parts of the country that showed a trend of increased integration among children were the Pacific Northwest and cities that were directly adjacent to military installations.

The Harvard study backs up this analysis. That study found that currently, 70% of all black children attend predominantly minority schools, up from 66% in 1991 and 63% in 1981. More than 36% of these children are in what is characterized as "intensely minority" schools, institutions where over 90% of all students are black or Hispanic. This percentage was less than 34% in 1991. Among Latino students, 76% are in predominantly minority schools, and 37% are in intensely minority schools. Both of these figures represent a 4% increase over a decade ago.

The Harvard study also made a correlation between predominantly minority schools and poverty. According to Gary Orfield, director of Harvard's Civil Rights Project, a map of schools attended by the average black or Hispanic student would almost perfectly match a map of high-poverty schools. According to the report, poorer schools have more transient student bodies, fewer teachers qualified in their subjects, parents lacking political power, and more frequent health problems among students.

Source: The New York Times, May 6, 2001 and July 20, 2001.

News Brief

According to a recent study by the Privacy Foundation, about one third of all workers with an Internet connection are under constant surveillance by their employers regarding their email and Internet use. The study also revealed that the trend is toward increased monitoring of employees, partly because the cost to do it is so low - only about $10 per employee per year.

Source: MSNBC

Sexual Harassment Update

Employer Liability for Workplace Risks

Employers may be held liable for sexual harassment, even if that harassment is perpetrated by someone who is not an employee or contractor. According to a recent decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, even when risks are known, an employer may be liable if they knew of particular hazards or conditions and did nothing to mitigate them.

The case leading to this decision involved Cynthia Turnbull, who became a PhD staff psychologist at the Topeka State Hospital in 1993. This facility (which has since closed) served patients with severe mental illnesses for whom out patient therapy was not an option. It was not a jail, and although patients were controlled on site, they were treated in the least restrictive environment possible.

Dr. Turnbull specialized in treating adolescent males, who often had issues of sexual "acting out" while in therapy. She was aware of the risks involved in her job, and in fact, the hospital had a female employee murdered by a patient in 1992. However, the hospital had never addressed the issue of sexual harassment or threats toward employees by patients, and offered little or no support to those who expressed concern about the issue. For example, no training was offered in self defense, and personal alarms that had been introduced following the 1992 murder had fallen out of use. Dr. Turnbull was never told of their availability.

Dr. Turnbull expressed her fears about dangers from her patients to the hospital Executive Committee, which did nothing in response. She also requested safer meeting space with patients, but this request was also not met. She was counseled by her supervisors to stop raising these issues, lest she be labeled a trouble maker.

In 1996, Dr. Turnbull was conducting a routine therapy session with a patient she had met with on several previous occasions, when the patient suddenly and violently sexually assaulted her. After the assault, it was revealed that the patient had sexually assaulted two female staff members at a previous facility, a fact that was not communicated to the hospital or Dr. Turnbull.

Dr. Turnbull claimed that the Topeka State Hospital incurred liability for her sexual assault and subsequent post-traumatic disorder because it had failed to adequately remedy what it knew to be a sexually hostile environment resulting from patients' threats against female staff members. Although this case was originally found in favor of the hospital, the decision was reversed on appeal.

What does this mean for those in the emergency services? Most women in the fire and emergency medical services have had incidents where they have been verbally or physically abused in a sexual manner by members of the public. Are employers potentially liable for this?

Several court decisions have supported the position that employers may be liable for sexual harassment by non-employees under some conditions. Most critical to the required conditions is that the employer knew or should have known of the conduct, and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Another criterion is whether the employer took action in areas where action was possible - for example, in hospital setting, the employer cannot control every act of its patients, but it does control the overall environment of the workplace.

Employers need to ask themselves: Are we doing everything we can to mitigate harassment and risk in the workplace? Or are we looking the other way when the source of the harassment is outside of direct control? Fire and emergency services departments put their employees in harm's way on a regular basis. Firefighters are trained extensively on how to deal with the risks involved in hazardous environments like fires and chemical spills. How much training and attention is given to preparing for hazards dealing with people on emergency scenes? As this case shows, liability is possible even when the risks were known.

Source: Turnbull v. Topeka State Hospital and the State of Kansas

© Linda F. Willing, 2001

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