A Jacksonville firefighter is suing the city after she says her coworkers harassed and demeaned her for months in retaliation for filing a complaint about pornography in the firehouse, local news channels reported Thursday.
Lieutenant Candice Buckner first complained to the fire chief and other city officials about the “volume of sexually explicit and pornographic materials, and inappropriate behaviors, in the fire station” in the summer of 2012, according to the lawsuit. She was the only woman on her shift and one of two female firefighters at Station One from the spring of 2012 to July 2013, when she was finally transferred to another station.
In February of last year, Buckner’s suit says, a male lieutenant named Dobson “approached Lieutenant Buckner and stated that Buckner’s teenage daughter would soon be of legal age for some fireman to ‘f—.’ Buckner told Dobson to knock it off, and he grabbed her arm, spun her around, and repeated his comment.” The two pushed each other, and Dobson continued harassing Buckner while Battalion Chief Neal White looked on and “did nothing to mitigate or stop the incident,” Buckner’s suit alleges. Later, White promised other Station One firefighters that he would get rid of Buckner “if it’s the last thing I do.”
The situation deteriorated from there, with coworkers trying to freeze Buckner out by not speaking to her at all, referring to her as a “crazy bitch” and “piece of p—-” among themselves, telling other men in the house to stick to the same story denying the harassment had occurred if department higher-ups asked about it, and nitpicking her uniform and work performance in ways that “no other personnel were subjected to,” the suit alleges.
Another fellow lieutenant told Buckner in April of 2013 that “we aren’t changing 150 years of tradition just because there’s a bitch in the house now,’” according to the complaint.
Buckner’s lawsuit makes no reference to a separate series of harassing events involving city police officers that reportedly occurred along the same timeline as the coworker harassment. The same summer that Buckner lodged her original complaint about pornography, she was one of six firefighters disciplined for participating in a date auction to raise money for the family of a fellow firefighter killed in an off-duty accident, FirstCoastNews.com reported. A top fire department official who attended the auction had recently been suspended for a month for looking at porn on a fire station computer.
The departmental discipline was nothing compared to the personal consequences Buckner faced from the auction. Buckner found out that a dozen city cops had run her driver’s license and other personal information after seeing her in a bikini top at the auction. One of the police officers was Buckner’s ex-fiance and the father of her son, and that officer was disciplined for showing up at Buckner’s home while on duty as part of a dispute over their child. That officer had previously been charged with trespassing for kicking down another ex-girlfriend’s door.
Just 3.4 percent of all firefighters, or roughly one in 30 nationwide, are women. Some cities have significantly higher proportions of female firefighters, such as Minneapolis (16 percent) and Denver (5 percent). Demographic data on the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department is not available online and calls to various city officials requesting the gender breakdown of the force have been unsuccessful.
The exclusion and harassment Buckner alleges is all too common for women in male-dominated professions. Whether it’s informal restrictions on the kinds of work duties that female construction workers are allowed to perform with machinery they are qualified to operate, formal instructions to flirt and sleep their way to promotions for women in fratty Wall Street offices, or the sexual assault epidemic in the U.S. military, women continue to face hostility from both individuals and the institutional systems that are legally bound to protect them from harassment.