Cecil County woman loses civil rights suit against fire company She alleged sexual assault

February 13, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

A Cecil County woman who contended that she was dismissed as a volunteer rescue worker for alleging that a fellow crew member sexually assaulted her has lost her bid for damages in U.S. District Court.

Judge Frederic N. Smalkin ruled that Paula Haavistola, 48, was notentitled to damages from the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- which deals with discrimination by an employer toward an employee -- because a volunteer is not an employee.

Judge Smalkin also rejected Mrs. Haavistola's contention that she was entitled to damages on constitutional grounds that the state should have protected her because, he said, a volunteer fire company is not acting in behalf of the state.

Court papers showed that Mrs. Haavistola, who sought $2.7 millionin the suit, contended that she was grabbed on the buttocks and in the crotch by a male ambulance driver at the fire company on March 24, 1990. The ambulance driver was acquitted of all charges at a criminal jury trial in Cecil County Circuit Court.

After Mrs. Haavistola reported the incident to the fire company's board of directors, she and the ambulance driver were both dismissed.

Mrs. Haavistola filed a sexual harassment complaint against the fire company in 1990.

A settlement reached in April would have provided reinstatement for Mrs. Haavistola, adoption of a sexual harassment policy by the fire company and limits on what could be said to the press about the settlement. But, because Mrs. Haavistola allegedly spoke with news media about her victory, the fire company said, she had violated the agreement and it refused to reinstate her. The fire company did reinstate the ambulance driver.

Awilda R. Marquez, attorney for Mrs. Haavistola, said that Judge Smalkin's Wednesday opinion was "devastating by its conclusion and impact."

"It sends the wrong message, that a woman who goes to her employer and says she has been sexually assaulted can be fired for bringing that complaint," Ms. Marquez said.

Roger N. Powell, attorney for the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun, said, "This really was about money, the entitlement mentality that prevails in society.

"Even after the jury trial showed the incident didn't happen as [Mrs. Haavistola] said, there was a chance for instant gratification and someone took it, looking for damages."

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