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More fire department sexual harassment allegations

Welcome to the Woodlands.

When she began her job at the fire department of The Woodlands Township in July 2013, Julie Thomas believed her skin was sufficiently thick to endure a work environment dominated almost entirely by “men with big egos.”

But Thomas, hired as a customer service representative when she was 22, said she soon felt overwhelmed as she became the target of sexually charged comments, jokes and explicit sexual propositions, allegations she detailed in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the township last month in a Houston federal court.

The lawsuit against The Woodlands Township alleges that Thomas was subjected to sexual harassment in a hostile work environment where four women work with more than 100 men. When she complained to a supervisor and to the Human Resources office, she contends she was fired in retaliation.

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The lawsuit against The Woodlands Township describes the fire department there as an “old-boys club or a fraternity house, ” where members “created a severe and pervasive hostile work environment based on sex.”

The harassment escalated in 2015 after Thomas began a weight loss regime, her suit says.

In one incident, according to the lawsuit, Thomas said Battalion Chief Jason Washington told her that she was “looking good these days” and suggested that they could have sex. The chief assured Thomas that her husband, firefighter Josh Thomas, could be kept in the dark.

“Come on Julie, Josh doesn’t have to know,” said Washington, according to suit.

In another incident, the lawsuit describes that Lt. Thomas Richardson “came up to Mrs. Thomas and made sound effects that mimicked a motorboat noise, which is frequently associated with placing one’s lips on a woman’s breasts, and said ‘Oh girl, the things I can do to you.’”

Thomas alleged she reported the incidents to her supervisor and the HR office, but no action was taken.

The Woodlands Township and its Fire Department deny the allegations, of course. I have no insight as to what may or may not have happened in this particular case, but I will say three things. One, no one should be surprised when allegations like this arise, because this has been and still is happening literally everywhere. Two, even if one it taken aback by an individual incident, no one should be surprised when more women come forward to bolster the original accusations now that the barrier of silence has been broken. And three, if you’re tired of hearing about this stuff and wish it would all just stop, remember that the way for it to stop is for there to be no tolerance for harassment. Don’t harass, and don’t defend or ally yourself with those who do, and we will begin to see a real decline in these incidents. We all need to do our part.

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