Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...December 2013 Issue Number 161

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  

IAFF Human Relations Conference January 28-30, 2014 in Lake Buena Vista, FL. Linda Willing will be presenting "If Diversity=Problems, What is the Solution?" on Thursday, January 30. Go to for more information.

International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services Conference February 26-28, 2014 Tucson, AZ. Go to for more information.


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

Hazing and Professionalism

Hazing has been in the news lately with reports of how a newer player on the Miami Dolphins football team was treated by a veteran player. The younger player reported being the subject of racial taunting, belittling and even threatening behavior, and also being forced to do things like pay for expensive meals he did not partake in himself. The other player acknowledged some of the behavior but said it was done out of team spirit and as a way of toughening up the younger man. Hazing, in other words.

What was depressing if not entirely surprising was how many people in the sports world and beyond attacked the player who complained as a wimp and defended the practice of hazing as a way of building better teams.

I hear this line of reasoning from firefighters too. Hazing is a way to let new members know their place, it is a rite of passage, and only someone who is weak or unsuited to the job would complain about it.

Yet some of these same firefighters (and officers) are also on the forefront of trying to make the fire service more professional, with better equipment, training, and certifications.

Here's the thing: Hazing and professionalism are mutually exclusive. You can't have a truly professional department and still tolerate or encourage members to act as if they are in junior high.

Hazing is not the same as kidding around or having fun at work. These things are fine and desirable within reasonable limits. Hazing is behavior directed specifically at new people in an organization, a kind of bullying cycle that endlessly repeats itself as formerly abused members become the abusers.

Adults have the right to come to work and be treated with respect and an assumption of inclusion. There will be plenty of ways that individuals will prove themselves through their work and their personal choices. Putting up with the completely unprofessional act of hazing should not be one of them.

Sources: USA Today, various issues, November 2013


News Brief

Last month, three women successfully completed US Marine Corps infantry training school, the first to do so in the history of the corps. The women were held to the same standards of physical and combat readiness as their male counterparts. However, the Marine Corps has stated that it could be up to two years before the women are assigned to combat roles.

Source: November 21, 2013


Sexual Harassment Update

Family Responsibility Discrimination

Is it possible to discriminate against someone based on their family responsibilities? Consider the case of Diane Seltzer Torre, a single mother who wanted to help out with her local volunteer fire department in Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. Seltzer Torre started out assisting with specific events in 2007 and became an administrative member of the Glen Echo Fire Department in 2009. In 2010, she attained her EMT certification and started working a 12 hour shift each week as an operational member. After a year, when the department started pressuring her to commit more hours to training and response as a "Charge" member, Ms. Seltzer Torre recognized conflicts with her work schedule as an attorney and responsibilities as a single mother.

Reluctantly, Ms. Seltzer Torre asked to return to administrative status and offered a number of ways she might be useful to the department. However, the only real assignment offered to her was to host birthday parties at the fire station on weekends. Ms. Seltzer Torre suggested other ways she could help-- such as managing the department website or doing other administrative tasks, including pro bono legal work. The birthday party assignment was not feasible on a regular basis due to joint custody arrangements with her children on weekends.

When Ms. Seltzer Torre indicated she could not take responsibility for managing weekend birthday parties, the chief of the department told her in a meeting of over 20 people that she was "of no use to the department" and publicly fired her, even though the by-laws of the organization did not give him that power. Ms. Seltzer Torre subsequently filed suit claiming discrimination based on age, marital status, and family responsibility.

In her claim, Ms. Seltzer Torre pointed out that most of the other members of the department have no children and have no family responsibilities that affect their availability to work on weekends, yet she was the only one asked to commit to a regular weekend schedule on the department. She also stated that no one else on the department had ever been disciplined or fired for refusing birthday party duty.

You have to wonder what motivated the chief to behave in this manner toward someone who was offering to volunteer her time. But family responsibility discrimination is no joke. Although not explicitly addressed in federal law, the EEOC recognizes that disparate treatment based on caregiver roles may violate Title VII as sex discrimination, and may also be a violation of the ADA or FMLA. Some local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County, Maryland have specific laws in place for family responsibility discrimination. Lawyers report claims of this form of discrimination skyrocketing in recent years. Both women and men are filing these claims.

While it may be challenging at times to accommodate the complex modern family at work, it is certainly possible with a little effort. Cases like this one underscore the importance of making that effort.

Source: Diane Seltzer Torre v. Glen Echo Fire Department. Montgomery County Circuit Court 384165-V.


© Linda F. Willing, 2013

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