As I’ve often said, I’ve got no objection to women firefighters–as long as physical-fitness standards aren’t relaxed in order to hire them. And I’m not particular about firefighters’ sexual orientations, again as long as they can do the job. But this story about the city of Minneapolis’s decision to fire its female fire chief, Bonnie Beskachek, after settling four discrimination lawsuits brought against her catapulted my eyebrows up to my hairline:
“There is no doubt the Fire Department [in Minneapolis] is rife with personal dramas and romantic entanglements. One of the lawsuits against Bleskachek was filed by Jennifer Cornell, 35, the chief’s ex-partner of six years, who shares custody of their two children. Another suit was brought by Kathleen Mullen, 43, a longtime friend who had dated Bleskachek’s current girlfriend.
“A third complaint is from a woman who says Bleskachek flirted with her and then punished her professionally after she declined the advances. Bleskachek counters that the firefighter, Kristina Lemon, was the one who professed attraction to her a decade ago and that she became angry when Bleskachek disciplined her last year for a physical altercation with another firefighter in a burning building.
“In February, Cornell and Mullen were the only ones to pass the first portion of a test to promote two employees to battalion chief. Shortly afterward, Bleskachek and several other department officials scrapped the test and left the two positions vacant. Mullen and Cornell charge that the move thwarted their careers and was taken because Bleskachek’s current partner, Mary Maresca, had failed the test.”
And here’s the fourth suit, filed by male firefighter Elondo Wright:
“Wright’s lawsuit alleges that he was harassed after he was transferred to an all-female fire company overseen by Maresca in 2002. He says Maresca forced him to train long hours late into the night while other firefighters were relaxing, and he alleges that from 1999 to 2005, women supervisors gave him 86 informal disciplinary write-ups, while four male supervisors gave him a total of four. Bleskachek was Maresca’s supervisor at the time.”
Wow! First you have an affair with, and start raising children with, one of your subordinates. Then you dump her and have an affair with another of your subordinates, angering a third subordinate who used to date the subordinate you’re now dating. Then you flirt–or something–with a fourth subordinate and put your current squeeze in charge of someone in the department you apparently don’t like. Talk about a firehouse! Don’t some of these employer-employee entanglements qualify as sexual harassment, or at the very least, unpfrofessional conduct?
Even gay-rights folks in Minneapolis are shaking their heads at Bleskachek’s overly personal way of running her force. Can’t say as I blame them.