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Barre reaches $250K settlement with former firefighter - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Barre reaches $250K settlement with former firefighter

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Rachael Wyatt Rachael Wyatt
BARRE, Vt. -

It all started at the Barre City Fire Department. Former on-call firefighter and EMT-in-training, Rachael Wyatt, claimed she was harassed by three of her co-workers. Wyatt claimed she was fired for denying a sexual advance by a superior.

"It was very difficult. It was very hard to focus on obtaining my EMT status and my firefighter status working under those conditions," Wyatt told Channel 3.

Wyatt filed a complaint in December of 2011 detailing the types of harassment she said she faced on the job. She claimed Lt. Robert Howarth and his wife Cindy Howarth -- also an on call firefighter -- called her a "dumb blonde" and said she was "playing firefighter to find a husband."

Allegations against Deputy Chief Joe Aldsworth are more severe and sexual in nature. She claimed he said things like, "I saw you today. You are looking hot in those jeans," and "I'm jealous Nick has a pic of your breast. I want one. I won't show anyone." Other complaints are too graphic for television.

Barre City manager Steven MacKenzie says he's confident the city took the appropriate steps in this case. All employees will keep their jobs and Wyatt will receive a quarter-of-a-million dollar settlement. The city is not releasing other details.

"It doesn't say somebody has to be fired just because there's a claim of sexual harassment. I think, to a certain degree, sexual harassment is in the eye of the beholder," MacKenzie said.

The department responded to Wyatt's claims, saying there was "insufficient knowledge and therefore denied the claims."
     
Reporter Susie Steimle: Can you say without a shadow of a doubt that any of these employees did not do anything wrong?

Steven MacKenzie: I have no specific comment on that -- I think I'll just leave it at that.

As for the safety of women currently working at the department, both parties -- again -- agree to disagree.  "I don't know that they're okay, I have no idea," Wyatt said. "I don't know any of the women that work there. I think they have two new women working there. I can only hope that they are okay."

Reporter Susie Steimle: Can you say to the women working there today that they are in a non-hostile work environment and that they should feel safe?

Steven MacKenzie: Yes

MacKenzie said while a quarter million dollars may sound like a lot of money for this settlement, litigation threatened to be even more expensive. He also anticipated that a jury may be more sympathetic to a woman claiming sexual harassment and thought it best not to risk going to court.

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