The Houston Fire Department is not the only fire department in the state of Texas that has faced problems regarding allegations of a hostile work environment and subjecting employees to sexual harassment. Firefighters in Victoria, TX recently complained about their work environment by claiming that provocative photos were displayed at Victoria Fire Station No. 2, according to the Victoria Advocate.
The city of Victoria decided to act quickly in this situation and fired two firefighters after an investigation revealed that they had been responsible for displaying the inappropriate photos, according to the Advocate.
The city of Victoria released few details about the incident, but the two firefighters were terminated from their positions after photographs of nude men in sexual poses were displayed in the fire station, reported the Advocate. Displaying the photographs was a violation of Victoria's conduct policy, of which city employees are repeatedly informed.
The Houston Fire Department was all over the news in 2010 when a female firefighter filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in Harris County, claiming that she had endured years of sexual harassment and that she faced retaliation any time that she complained about it. As of July 2012, a settlement had still not been reached in that sexual harassment suit.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a form of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act at the federal level. Texas law also prohibits sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
There are two main types of sexual harassment in the workplace, quid pro quo and a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment is when sexual favors are required for advancement or to avoid being demoted. Hostile work environment harassment is when an intimidating and offensive work environment is created by other employees through frequent verbal or physical sexual conduct that is offensive or hostile.
Here, the claim was that there were images of nude men in sexual poses posted in the firehouse. While this might not be patently offensive to everyone, the posting of the images certainly made it possible for the images to be seen very frequently. There is also no denying that the images were sexual or that there was a sexual reason for posting them. For these reasons it looks like the city of Victoria acted appropriately in firing the offending firefighters.
The city of Victoria has made a good example of the firefighters, because it is clear that the city's attempt at enforcing its policies has not taught all of its employees how to avoid sexual harassment. Unless the city of Victoria is a nudist colony, in which case there really shouldn't be a problem.
July 2012 Editor's Note: This blog post has been updated by John List, Esq. to ensure relevancy of content and that law cited is current.