CLINTON — A former firefighter has filed a lawsuit against the Clinton Fire Department for discrimination and harassment she said spanned her five-year tenure with the department.
Shelley Drescher filed the complaint against the city, its fire department and five individuals in the department last week in 2nd District Court, alleging that those in the department routinely walked in on her when she was changing or showering, made crude comments in her presence, ignored her complaints and kept her from advancing in her firefighting career.
Drescher is asking for more than $10,000 in damages, saying the alleged discrimination and retaliation against her caused her lost wages, pain, suffering and mental anguish that forced her to seek medical treatment for depression and anxiety.
Drescher was with the department as a part-time employee from 2008 to 2013 and alleged she was "denied promotion to full-time employment primarily, if not solely, as a result of her gender" in her four attempts to become full time.
According to the lawsuit, she reported the alleged incidents of sexual harassment four times to both an assistant fire chief and filed a formal complaint with the city manager.
"Despite her complaints, no remedial actions were taken, and Mrs. Drescher was subsequently retaliated against as a result of her complaints," the lawsuit stated.
Drescher alleged that she was met with gender discrimination each time she applied for a full-time post. In her first attempt, she said she was told by then-Chief Floyd Peterson that she could not apply because she was married to another firefighter.
Drescher said she relied on this "false statement" and withdrew her application.
On her second attempt, she learned from her husband that Peterson was going to tamper with her scores and place her last on the list "because of her marital status." According to the lawsuit, Drescher said she confronted Peterson and was told her it did not matter how high she scored because she would be ranked last.
When the results were posted, she was last and was denied a request to see her scores, even though other testing candidates were allowed to do so, the complaint states.
In her next two attempts, Drescher said she was passed over for male candidates with less experience and fewer certifications than she had. In one case, the male applicant was guaranteed the job even though he didn't meet the department's requirements, prompting Chief David Olsen to change the requirements to allow the hire, the lawsuit states.
In addition to the alleged gender discrimination, Drescher said there were numerous instances of sexual harassment in her time with the department. She said her complaints about the harassment were ignored even though she filed formal complaints with the department head and city manager.
"Instead, Mrs. Drescher's reporting of the incidents of sexual harassment she experienced ultimately worsened an already hostile work environment, and even led to further acts of sexual harassment," the lawsuit states.
Drescher alleges that her male colleagues would walk into the woman's bathroom and locker room while she was showering and changing and used the women's bathroom and locker room to shower and change themselves. Men in the department would walk around in their underwear almost daily and occasionally totally naked.
Drescher said two of her co-workers routinely made crude remarks and told sex jokes in her presence. Those same co-workers would also discuss their sexual fantasies involving female patients and talk about instances in which they tried to look down the shirt of female patients.
When one of those men taught a sexual harassment seminar, they didn't talk about appropriate behavior but told crude jokes and "said that conduct constituting sexual harassment was OK so long as the chiefs did not catch them doing it," according to the lawsuit.
One captain hung pictures of women in lingerie in the day room, removing them only after Drescher asked that he do so, and the fire department had a subscription to Maxim, which the complaint describes as "a magazine depicting scantily clad sexualized women."
Drescher argued that the activity was negligent, violated her civil rights and amounted to both a negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is asking for a jury trial.
Clinton city manager Dennis Cluff said Tuesday he couldn't comment too much on the case because it is pending in court, but said the city is "innocent."
"If we go to court, we will go through that process and that will prove it," he said.
Cluff said he didn't field any sexual harassment complaints from Drescher, but said she did file a complaint about not getting the full-time position that was processed some time ago.
He said she also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Commission last year and that the city responded in October, but that there has not been a decision.
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