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Female Fairfax County firefighter sues 17 officials for conspiracy of bullying & harassment

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Click here to watch the latest story from reporter Peggy Fox

This should be no surprise to anyone at this point. There have been a lot of hints about more lawsuits against the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue Department. Here is the link to the suit filed by Firefighter Patricia Tomasello. You can watch more about the suit in the story above from WUSA9.com’s Peggy Fox or read details below.

Over the past two months, It has been allegation after allegation about the department with little in the way of real answers.

While Chief Richie Bowers did talk again with some reporters over the past week, we still don’t know the answers to many basic questions (it hasn’t been a good day for the chief, this morning he was involved in a motor vehicle collision that injured the other driver). In a conversation earlier this week with WTOP Radio’s Neal Augenstine, Chief Bowers put a lot of hopes on a consultant being brought in to assess the department’s handling of sexual and racial harassment issues, but Bowers admits that could take a year. My opinion, based on living in Fairfax County for 18 years and covering the county as a reporter since the early 1980s, is that the consultant route is a typical delaying tactic used by the Board of Supervisors in lieu of handling things promptly, openly and directly.

Bowers also talked to Augenstine about transparency and responsibility, saying, “I’m responsible. Period. Everything that goes on in the department, whether I know or don’t know, I am responsible. I’m the chief.”

But the interviews still leave out some basic and important information that the citizens should be hearing from their fire chief right now. Key is sharing what the chief learned from his meeting early this month with the women of the department. What did they tell the chief? Is everything good? Are the problems not as bad as the news coverage would make you believe? Are they worse? An honest assessment of the depth of the problem by the man in charge could go a long way in restoring public confidence.

In addition, we still don’t know what has been confirmed in the allegations that have been made up until now. Transparency should mean the chief shares important facts as he learns them.

VA Fairfax County Richie Bowers 1
Chief Richie Bowers

Some of the claims are about how Chief Bowers and his command staff handled harassment complaints. Bowers is among the 17 named defendants in the latest lawsuit. The chief should be able to tell us, at this point, if the systems in place are working or whether the procedures, and the people responsible for administering those procedures, have failed to properly deal with complaints. If mistakes were made, withholding that information will not help anyone.

Transparency means more than just saying “I am responsible.” Those who have the job of being “responsible” should share enough of the details about the problem so the people they serve have a good understanding of what has occurred and what is being done to make sure it doesn’t occur again.

Peggy Fox, WUSA9.com:

Fairfax County fire is facing more accusations after another lawsuit was filed against department officials.

In the 40-page lawsuit, a woman firefighter alleges she was bullied and sexually harassed to the point of a conspiracy to get her to quit. She is not suing Fairfax County Fire Department, but the 17 fire officials including current and past fire chiefs.

“We’re not saying the fire department is rotten, but the leadership and how they treat young female firefighters, that’s what’s wrong,” said D.C. attorney Martin McMahon.

McMahon is representing firefighter Patricia Tomasello in a lawsuit against 17 Fairfax County fire officials. She alleged a civil conspiracy to bully, belittle and harass her over her 20-year career. Tomasello also claims they were jealous of her achievements and resented her because she complained.

“She’s complaining about colleagues who approached her at two in the morning and wanted to have sex with her. She has actually filed a complaint against us. So they realize she’s not a team player and then the word comes down, ‘Let’s get rid of the bitch,'” said McMahon.

The lawsuit alleges two male firefighters asked Tomasello, who is black, for sex and then circulated false rumors, including that the only reason she was selected for her slot was her sex and race. She also claims she was mistreated because she lodged complaints against other firefighters and officials. One incident involved firefighters posing with Hooters girls.

“She saw fire chief on the Hooters incident. Here he is erasing camera pictures. Why? Because they showed the Hooter girls with fire chief hats, or, whatever they’re called, helmets. That’s destruction of evidence and he could’ve been brought up on charges,” said McMahon.

McMahan said Tomasello was demoted from investigations and not allowed to move up.

“They knew she was qualified, ready to sit for her captains exam, you know how they screwed her out of that, they said, we couldn’t find your papers,” said McMahon.

In the lawsuit, she also names Guy Morgan, the internal affairs investigator, claiming he bullied her and pushed her once. He is on administrative leave after the discovery of lewd content on his Facebook page.

WUSA9 reporter Peggy Fox spoke to Fire Chief Richard Bowers who said he did know anything about the lawsuit and could not comment.

The 17 defendants have not been served yet.

Tomasello has previously sued the fire department in federal court. That lawsuit was dismissed.

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