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Workplace Relationships versus Workplace Sexual Harassment

Clearwater Fire Department Faces New Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

The Clearwater Fire Department is investigating two firefighters after allegations that the two have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior at work, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Fellow firefighters have alleged that Lt. William Fry and medic Tiffany Seabolt were carrying on a sexual relationship in the firehouse in violation of Fire Department policies. The Fire Department has not made a decision about how to discipline the two firefighters if at all, but their superiors have assigned them to different firehouses. The allegations come after a series of cases of sexual misconduct involving Clearwater firefighters, including a firefighter who had sex with two women in the firehouse and a firefighter who sexually abused a teenager.

Fry and Swartz Traded Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

The allegations that Lt. Fry and medic Seabolt were engaging in a sexual relationship in the firehouse against department policy came when a fellow firefighter, Brian Swartz, complained to superiors. He explained that Fry patted Seabolt on the buttocks, that the two sometimes shared a bed, and that they fed each other from their silverware. Fry responded by accusing Swartz of sexual harassment. He claimed that Swartz patted female firefighters on the rear and took a picture of a female firefighter in the shower. The department later found that these accusations lacked any foundation. Other firefighters at the station eventually corroborated the facts surrounding Fry and Seabolt’s relationship, although they were initially evasive of questioning.

Title VII Forbids Workplace Sexual Harassment

Every employer, not just government agencies like fire departments, has to comply with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That act makes it unlawful for an employer to, among other things, discriminate against an employee based on their sex. Discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual harassment. There are different forms of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment includes a pattern of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and offensive remarks about an employee’s sex. Although isolated incidents of teasing or off-hand remarks usually do not count as sexual harassment, a number of incidents in a particular workforce can combine to create what is known as a hostile environment. Also, if an employer makes an adverse employment decision (like deciding not to hire or promote an employee) because of their sex, this is also a form of sexual harassment.

No Sexual Harassment in Clearwater Fire Department Case

In the case of the Clearwater Fire Department, were there one or more incidents of sexual harassment? It appears from reports that while Fry and Seabolt made sexual advances toward each other and may have requested and received sexual favors, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that these advances were unwelcome. If one of the firefighters was the superior of the other, and treated the other person in a beneficial way in exchange for sexual favors, then this would be what is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. But reports seem to indicate that this was not the case. Although Fry accused Swartz of behaviors that might have counted as sexual harassment (like taking photos of a female firefighter in the shower), it appears that these accusations did not have merit. If they did, the firefighters that Fry sexually harassed could file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Florida Commission on Human Rights (FCHR).

Get Legal Help

If you have received complaints of sexual harassment from one of your employees, you need legal assistance. Get in touch with an experienced discrimination lawyer at Dilla Employment Law, PA. in Clearwater today to get the advice you need.

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