For Paula Haavistola, the would-be paramedic who was suspended from the Rising Sun Volunteer Fire Company after complaining of being sexually assaulted by a colleague, there was good news and bad news.
The good news was that Kenneth E. Truitt, who was charged with a fourth-degree sexual assault, was found guilty Monday in Cecil County District Court. The bad news is that she has not been reinstated to her job.
"I am totally thrilled," Mrs. Haavistola, 46, said of the conviction.
But Mrs. Haavistola still would like to work as a paramedic to gain the experience she needs for state certification and is concerned that the fire company's board of directors has yet to ** let her know when she may return to work.
In the meantime, she has filed a $3.5 million civil suit against the company.
Awilda R. Marquez, a lawyer with a Baltimore law firm who is
handling the case for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the conviction has no bearing on the lawsuit. But she hopes it sends a message to the fire company that suspending Mrs. Haavistola was "cavalier and inappropriate."
Mrs. Haavistola says the trouble began March 24 while she was replacing an oxygen tank in the ambulance bay at the Rising Sun Volunteer Fire Company. She says she was roughly fondled by Mr. Truitt, 40, who is a member of the company.
In accordance with company rules, she reported what happened to her superior. At a March 26 meeting, the company's board of directors called her in, and she was asked in front of 19 men and three women to describe what happened.
The board also questioned Mr. Truitt, who denied doing anything improper. Mrs. Haavistola was then invited back into the board ++ room, where she was told that both she and Mr. Truitt were being suspended.
"They told me it was my problem and I would have to deal with it the best way I could," Mrs. Haavistola said.
She dealt with it by filing criminal charges against Mr. Truitt, a discrimination complaint with the Maryland Human Relations Commission and the lawsuit in federal court.
In Monday's trial, Cecil County District Judge James C. McKinney found Mr. Truitt guilty of a fourth-degree sexual offense and battery. He could be sent to jail for one year and fined $1,000.
Mr. Truitt could not be reached, and his attorney did not return phone calls.
But Roger Powell, an attorney for the Rising Sun Volunteer Fire Company, said it is his understanding that Mr. Truitt will appeal. Mr. Powell said he hasn't met with his clients yet but both Mrs. Haavistola and Mr. Truitt were suspended "pending an investigation."
Because Mr. Truitt may appeal, he said, the investigation and suspensions continue.