A former firefighter trainee has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the city, accusing firefighters of sexually harassing her and breaking an employment contract.
Elizabeth Cook also says fire officials created a hostile work environment, retaliated against her and inflicted emotional distress.Washington Terrace City Manager Pearce Shelton declined to comment because he had not yet seen the lawsuit, filed in 2nd District Court. City Attorney Robert Neeley said the matter was being turned over to the city's insurers.
The claims stem from a pornography scandal that began last year when firefighters allegedly used the department's computer to download pornographic images from the Internet.
Cook, 20, said more than 250 pictures and more than 200 sounds were downloaded, some in her presence. She left her volunteer position after filing a grievance with the Utah Labor Commission's Anti-Discrimination Division.
Fire Chief Rob Herndon, Capt. Harlow Pickett and firefighter Brent Keyes resigned in August but were rehired by the city in February. None was hired at his former salary or position.
Last week, Fire Chief Tracy Bessinger resigned for reasons that were undisclosed and Mayor Richard Jackson has indicated there may be some turmoil within the department.
Bessinger was never implicated in the pornography scandal.
Cook said she was disappointed he was leaving because she had hoped to work for him.
Cook said she believes she'll never be able to become a firefighter in Utah. "The departments are all so close, I feel like there's been some blackballing," she said.
She now hopes to move out of state and pursue a firefighting career.
Cook insists she didn't file a lawsuit for the money.
"The reason I'm doing it is to say that what they did was wrong," she said. "The reason it's $5 million is to make a point that I'm not piddling around."
Cook said she would consider settling out of court but only if she gets a public apology from the department and Herndon, Pickett, Keyes, Lt. Aaron Byington and firefighter Dave Hernandez were dismissed from the department.
All five were named in Cook's grievance filed with the Utah Labor Commission's Anti-Discrimination Division.