Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... June 2019 Issue Number 227

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.

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

The National Volunteer Fire Council Training Conference will take place June 14-15, 2019 in Portland, OR. Linda Willing will be presenting on Saturday, June 15.

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 through this website.


In the News

Sexual Assault in the Military and Beyond

A 2018 survey among men and women in all branches of the armed forces showed that incidents of unwanted sexual contact were up by 38% compared to the last survey done in 2016. Among women, assaults were up by 50%.

Women currently make up about 20% of the military, but are the targets of 63% of assaults, the survey found, with the youngest and lowest-ranking women most at risk. Assaults increased across all branches, but the Marine Corps, which has proportionally more young, low-ranking troops and far fewer women than the other services, reported by far the highest rates.

A separate report in January showed that the number of sexual assaults at the nation’s service academies had risen by 50% since 2016, suggesting that the problem is just as widespread among the military’s future leaders as it is in the current ranks.

Most victims of sexual assault do not report it. Reasons for this reluctance include the fear of not being believed or being retaliated against as a result of reporting.

The armed forces have dedicated enormous resources to mitigating the problem of sexual assault among their ranks, including education efforts and resources for victims. However, some say that the system of reporting and investigation that follows the chain of command may contribute to the problem.

Women in other nontraditional fields understand this concern. If you are required to report to the person who is perpetrating or enabling the behavior, staying silent is often a more logical course of action.

Some elected officials have pushed to institute a system where an independent prosecutor could be used to handle sexual assault cases in the military. Opponents, including many in Congress, argue that military commanders are in the best position to understand individual cases, and that bringing in an outside prosecutor could tie their hands.

According to recent figures, around 6000 reports of sexual assault in the armed forces were made last year, but only 300 cases were prosecuted. For most reports, any disciplinary action was meted out by commanders at their discretion outside the court system.

In an official statement, the Marine Corps said, "Sexual assault erodes the trust and cohesion within the Marine Corps team, degrades our lethality and readiness, and is incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment." True enough, but now is the time to put action behind words.

Source: The New York Times, May 2, 2019


News Brief

The Miami Beach Fire Department is facing complaints that nepotism played a role in selecting this year’s recruit class. Of the 21 recruits ultimately selected from a hiring pool of over 500 candidates, six are related to current department members, including the chief of department, two division chiefs, and the union president..

Source: Miami Herald, May 2, 2019


Sexual Harassment Update

Rumors and Discrimination

Can malicious rumors be the source of a claim of harassment or discrimination in the workplace? Consider the case of Evangeline Parker, a clerk who rose to the position of assistant manager in her company, only to be fired as a result of malicious rumors about her sexual behavior that were started by a jealous rival.

Ms. Parker was hired in 2014 into an entry level position at the same time as another employee, Donte Jennings. According to court records, Ms. Parker rose quickly through the ranks while Jennings did not. When she became his supervisor, he started a rumor that she had achieved success as a result of having sex with the company's boss. The rumor quickly spread among other men employed at the worksite, who started being openly hostile toward her. Ms. Parker eventually filed a formal complaint with the company's human resources department, but then Jennings subsequently filed a complaint against her for causing a hostile work environment through her inappropriate conduct. Parker was disciplined as a result, and ultimately fired.

Parker filed a lawsuit against the company for discrimination and harassment. Her first hearing with the district court resulted in a decision that mostly favored the employer, saying that the rumors were not based on sex but rather behavior, and the time frame precluded the actions being severe and pervasive. Parker appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, who had a very different take on the issue.

The Fourth Circuit Court pointed out that rumors about "sleeping your way to the top" have historically targeted women exclusively, and in this case, only Parker experienced adverse employment action. They reversed and remanded the lower court's decision, citing that false rumors can be a basis for a Title VII discrimination claim.

Sources: Lexology, February 13, 2019 and Parker v. Reema Consulting Services Inc.

© Linda F. Willing, 2019