By David Sherfinski
The Washington Times
FAIRFAX COUNTY, Wash. — A former firefighter has settled with Fairfax County over a high-profile sexual harassment case that included charges that the woman's recruitment officer asked during her interview if she "enjoyed being watched while she had sex."
The little-noticed settlement, reached in March, came nearly a year after a jury awarded Mary Getts Bland $250,000. The county appealed the award, and U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris reduced it to $50,000.
The case continued because Ms. Bland was awarded $307,000 in attorney's fees and other costs, but the county appealed those as well. She settled the fees for "modestly less," according to her attorney, David Shapiro.
"Compromise is part of the process," Mr. Shapiro said. "If we weren't happy with the result, we wouldn't have done the result. We got a lot of money as a result of the judge's award."
According to sworn testimony, Ms. Bland said that during her recruitment interview a decade ago, Lt. Timothy D. Young "asked me if I like to be watched while I masturbate."
"He asked you that?" Mr. Shapiro asked.
"Yes," she responded. "He would interject these inappropriate questions throughout the interview. He asked me if I liked to have sex with more than one partner at the same time."
Mr. Young denied asking Ms. Bland about sex during her recruitment process, but "admitted making off-color comments periodically," according to Felecia L. Edwards, then the equal employment opportunity officer with the department.
"Did he admit to asking her about sex, allowing people to look at her when she masturbates, enjoying sex with more than one person, when she was a recruit? Did he admit to that?" Mr. Shapiro asked during the trial.
"No, he did not, that I remember," Ms. Edwards replied.
"He denied that, didn't he?" Mr. Shapiro asked.
"And you believed him?"
"It's not about whether I believe him or not, sir."
After Ms. Bland was working with the department, Mr. Young would page her at work over a loudspeaker, and when she called him he would invite her to Night Dreams, an adult sex shop in Tysons Corner.
Ms. Bland, who left the department in 2010 because of a work-related injury, did not formally report the incidents.
"As a probationary firefighter, I felt that any wave, ripple, whatever that I made in the department, I would lose my job," she said.
The calls did not immediately stop, though. And Ms. Bland did not report those, either.
"Like I said, being in fear that he would sabotage my career somehow, being a recruit or a probationary firefighter, I remained polite, courteous, respecting his rank. I answered his questions, declined his offers," she said. "It was humiliating getting those announcements at the academy, as everyone knew that you weren't supposed to take phone calls. I was terrified I would get in trouble for that."
Ms. Bland testified that Lt. Young, in a later incident, walked past her while on duty carrying a 6-foot pike pole and remarked, "This looks like it would hurt."
"Based on all the sexual innuendo, I took it very much as a threat," she said. "Not so much at the time, but I felt that it was very amusing to him to think of sexually assaulting me with something that would hurt."
Judge Cacheris found that based on evidence produced at trial, a "reasonable jury" could return a verdict in favor of Ms. Bland for her claims of a hostile work environment.
"The interview and pike pole incidents, in particular, are more than merely boorish or callous behavior and well-beyond workplace banter or joking," wrote Judge Cacheris.
Ms. Edwards testified that Mr. Young said "hell no" when asked whether he said what was alleged during the pike pole instance, though another witness testified he did make remarks to that effect.
The agreement ends — for now — a somewhat damaging stretch for the department. Former county firefighter Stacey Bailey filed suits on similar charges last year. One was dismissed in August, and the two parties came to an undisclosed agreement on the other. The terms of the settlement were confidential, and that case was dismissed with prejudice in September.
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