Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...July 2013 Issue Number 156

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 areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

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

Missouri Valley Division IAFC Annual Conference July 10-12, 2013 in Colorado Springs, CO. Linda Willing will be making a presentation at this conference. Go to for more information.

Leading Tomorrow: 2013 Leadership Conference August 13-14, 2013 Chicago, IL. Leadership event for fire service women, co-located with FRI. Linda Willing will be presenting the workshop Command Presence at this conference. Go to for more information.

Fire-Rescue International Chicago, IL August 13-17, 2013. Linda Willing will be presenting two workshops at this conference on August 14: Leading Diverse Teams and Professionalism in the Fire Service: New Challenges and Solutions. Go to for updates.

Firewomen 2013 Frisco, CO October 3-6, 2013. Sponsored by Colorado Division of Fire Safety. Go to for updates and registration information.

Female Firefighters in Germany 22nd Conference will be held October 25-27, 2013 in Bruchsal, Germany. Click here for more information and registration.


Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered here.

Rethinking Recruitment: Notes from a day-long workshop held in Keystone, CO in November 2012.


In the News

When You Live by a Stereotype

Many people, including Paula Deen, think it is unfair that she should lose market share for her empire of food-related products, simply because she used a notorious racial slur some years ago. But the problem is not that Paula Deen once used the n-word. The problem is that Paula Deen simply does not get it.

Over the years, Ms. Deen has built an impressive conglomerate of restaurants, products, endorsements, and media programs based on her personal take on Southern cooking and culture. But the recent controversy has caused a number of her former sponsors to drop her, including Walmart and the Food Network.

Ms. Deen has apologized on several occasions, and appeared tearfully on The Today Show. She said, "I can truthfully say in my life, I have never with intention hurt anybody on purpose and I never would."

But this statement is telling in its qualifiers. Racism is often not purposeful and intentional, but instead systemic and assumed in small ways. In her deposition, when asked about her brother telling racial jokes in the restaurant he managed for her, she said, "Just because he's got a sense of humor does not make him a bad person or incapable of running a business." She talked about how she and her husband taught their children not to use the n-word "in a mean way." When handling workplace jokes in general, she said, "I can't, myself, determine what offends another person."

At the end of her Today Show interview, Ms. Deen said, "I is what I is," invoking her folksy Southern roots as a blanket excuse for any unintentional harm. But what Ms. Deen is and always has been is a savvy, shrewd businesswoman who certainly understands the concept of accountability. As one commentator said, "She lived by a stereotype and she played a role, and she died by that role."

Source: June 27, 28, 28, 2013

News Brief

On its last day in session, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Further, the court upheld a lower court's ruling that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, opening the door to the legalization of same sex marriage in that state.

Source: June 26, 2013


Sexual Harassment Update

Who is a Supervisor?

The U.S. Supreme Court made several historic rulings in its last week in session, particularly regarding same sex marriage and the Voting Rights Act. One less prominent decision should not be overlooked-- the court's split and contentious decision about how to define a supervisor for the purposes of EEO law.

The case involved a food service worker at Ball State University named Maetta Vance, who claimed that the woman acting as her supervisor, Saundra Davis, racially harassed her on a number of occasions. The case hinged on whether Ms. Davis qualified as a supervisor under EEO law.

Harassment law assigns different levels of liability depending on who is doing the harassing. If a supervisor harasses an employee, the employer is vicariously (or absolutely) liable, whether they had actual knowledge of the harassment or not. Only if a strict two-prong defense is met may an employer escape liability for hostile environment harassment under these circumstances.

If the harasser is a co-worker, then the standards change. Employers are only liable for this type of harassment if they were negligent about controlling workplace conditions- the so-called "knew or should have known" standard.

In its recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court defined a supervisor very narrowly- strictly as a person who has the authority to take "tangible employment actions" against the plaintiff, including such actions as hiring, firing, or making substantial decisions about work assignment or job function. Under this definition, the court ruled that Ms. Davis was not a supervisor, and thus Ms. Vance's employer had no vicarious liability for any bad behavior on her part.

The court's rationale seemed to be based on simplifying EEO law, but the actual results of this decision are chilling in terms of controlling workplace harassment. Perhaps in the era of small family-owned businesses, this revised standard might make sense. But today, the vast majority of workers may never see the person who can actually hire or fire them. Instead, their workplace environment is controlled by the person in charge of that shift or that crew-- the fire officer, the shift boss, the manager.

Based on this new ruling, a fire department has no vicarious liability for the actions of its officers. The court tried to hedge its bets in this area by saying that "this approach will not leave employees unprotected against harassment by co-workers who possess some authority to assign daily tasks. In such cases, a victim can prevail simply by showing that the employer was negligent in permitting the harassment to occur..."

This puts the burden of proof of negligence on the victim, and it would be an easy defense to mount that fire chiefs, for example, have better things to do than monitor every single thing that happens in every fire station under their jurisdiction. The result of this ruling is that workplace harassment, even by designated supervisors, will be much harder to prove and adjudicate for victims.

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Ginsberg pointed out that this new definition of supervisor would have potentially changed the outcome of some landmark harassment cases in recent years. The dissent said, "[This ruling] ignores conditions under which members of the workforce labor, and disserves the objectives of Title VII to prevent discrimination from infecting the Nation's workplaces."

Source: Vance v. Ball State University et al. U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-556



© Linda F. Willing, 2013

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