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Two Female Firefighters Challenge Systemic Discrimination In Virginia

In 2016, a female firefighter from Fairfax County, Virginia committed suicide after being bullied on the County’s message board. Following her death, the department vowed to investigate and improve the environment. Two women from that same department assert that the working environment remains intolerable and have filed Charges of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Battalion Chiefs Kathleen Stanley and Cheri Zosh accuse the Fairfax Fire Department (FRD) of allowing sexual harassment and punishing women who complain. Cheri Zosh tried to stop a male officer from harassing and stalking a more junior female firefighter. This same officer turned his attentions to her, harassing and stalking her. She and the other firefighter brought suit against the department and Chief Zosh settled her claims with FRD. Since bringing that case, she has been denied several jobs, a promotion, and threatened with discipline. Chief Stanley was the Women’s Program Officer. She was appointed in response to the 2016 suicide referenced above. After speaking out about the systemic harassment in the department and advocating for a female firefighter accusing the department of harassment, Chief Stanley faced retaliation. She resigned in protest of her treatment, after which the retaliation escalated.
The Fairfax County Fire Department has asserted that many of the issues set forth in the charges were already investigated, and individuals reprimanded where appropriate. The current Acting Fire Chief stated that the department has worked hard to improve gender relations over the last couple of years and has concluded through internal assessment that most of the women firefighters are satisfied with the workplace culture.