The city of Denver has paid a former female firefighter $75,000 to settle her claims after she said she experienced repeated sexual harassment on the job, CBS station KCNC-TV reports.
The woman says the harassment included finding pornographic magazines, which she believes were intentionally left around the firehouse so she would see them.
"Virtually every firehouse has some amount of porn in it," said Mari Newman, who represented Denver firefighter Camilla VonBurkhardt in her legal action against the Denver Fire Department. "There is no doubt that some of the firefighters, including some of the superior officers, went out of their way to set up pornography in places where she was sure to find it."
VonBurkhardt, the daughter of two Denver law enforcement professionals, became a Denver firefighter in 2014. But she resigned less than a year later, saying she faced "psychological menacing" on a day-to-day basis because she was inexperienced and was female.
"I have been singled out, discriminated against, ridiculed, humiliated, and subjected to numerous inappropriate sexual comments towards my gender," wrote VonBurkhardt in her resignation letter, obtained by KCNC-TV.
The woman said many of the incidents took place in the presence of supervisors or command officers, who she said failed to intervene. In 2015, VonBurkhardt filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division/Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the sexual harassment was "pervasive and severe" and "ingrained in DFD culture and tolerated and condoned at all levels."
VonBurkhardt, who said she was responsible for cleaning a firehouse, wrote that "My DFD superiors also left sexually explicit and pornographic materials in the bathrooms and in my cleaning closet." Photos obtained by KCNC-TV show men's magazines under a firehouse sink and spread on the floor of a cleaning closet.
In settling with the former firefighter for $75,000, Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade denied in a legal document that the woman was treated illegally. But when KCNC-TV asked to talk to Tade and City Attorney Scott Martinez about the settlement and the accusations that led to the payout, both refused.
A fire department spokesperson said, "The settlement with Ms. VonBurkhardt was reached at the conclusion of confidential mediation and we respectfully decline to discuss this personnel matter."
When KCNC-TV pointed out that the settlement was not confidential and the payout had been approved by Denver City Council, the fire department spokesperson replied, "While the terms of the agreement are not confidential the mediation that took place is confidential. Out of respect for our current and former employees we must respectfully decline your request for an interview." She went on to say, "There are confidential reasons why the settlement was reached that we can't discuss."
Newman was not reluctant to discuss what led to the settlement.
"It is a classic white, good old boys club, and it has been for decades, and it continues to be ... and the taxpayers are paying for the lack of training in our city. The city and county of Denver needs to change its behavior," said Newman.