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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Fairfax County in the Hot Seat: Ex-Fire Battalion Chief Files Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

Written by: Sam Orlando

A federal lawsuit has been filed against Fairfax County and the International Association of Fire Fighters by former Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley McCaffery. Ms. Stanley alleges she was discriminated against based on her sex and faced retaliation for raising issues about such discrimination.

The lawsuit comes more than half a year after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) supported Ms. Stanley's retaliation claim, filed in 2018. The EEOC found reasonable cause in December 2022 that Fairfax County had indeed retaliated against Ms. Stanley for voicing out against discriminatory practices. After failed conciliation attempts and the issuance of a right-to-sue notice in May 2023, Ms. Stanley moved the issue to the federal courts.

Ms. Stanley, a highly accomplished former Battalion Chief for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FRD), served from 2011 until her resignation in 2019. She held various roles of increasing responsibility within the department and was the first Operations Officer of the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team—a collaboration of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center.

After returning from a federal fellowship in 2016, Ms. Stanley was assigned as Battalion Chief of Special Projects. She was then tasked to lead the women's program within the FRD after firefighter Nicole Mittendorf's suicide, a result of anonymous online bullying.

In 2018, Ms. Stanley resigned from her position as the Women's Program Officer after feeling defeated by her inability to effect significant change for women in the department. She pointed to various incidents and practices that led to her decision, including instances of sexual harassment and discrimination. After her resignation, the Women’s Program Officer position was eliminated by Fairfax County.

The lawsuit cites a culture of harassment and discrimination against women in the FRD, which reportedly has seen six lawsuits filed by women for sex discrimination since 2005. Of the 1,450 employees, only 165, or approximately 11 percent, are women.

Ms. Stanley claims that after her resignation letter became public, she was subjected to overt and subtle retaliation. She further alleges that her application for the Fire Chief position was rejected due to her sex and her efforts to address sex discrimination complaints. Ms. Stanley is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages, retroactive reinstatement as Fire Chief with back pay, and correction of her personnel file, among other relief.

Fairfax County Fire Chief John Butler, in a prior statement, said that the department has since made strides in providing equity and inclusion, implementing programs for women's retention, enhancing leadership development, and expanding the Behavioral Health program.

The county has not yet responded to the allegations detailed in the lawsuit.

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