Clark Co. Fire District faces federal lawsuit as former employee alleges hate crime, hostile work environment
CLARK CO. Wash. (KPTV) - Clark County Fire District 6 is facing a federal lawsuit after one of their former firefighters alleged that he experienced a hate crime and a hostile work environment.
The lawsuit filed in the US District Court for Western Washington details a racially-motivated assault, which allegedly took place last June.
The lawsuit alleges that a group of recruits was in a knot-tying class in one of the classrooms at the main Fire District building on June 7, 2022. That’s when one firefighter allegedly tied a noose around the neck of firefighter Elijah Page, who is Black, and simulated a lynching.
Six witness statements were included in the lawsuit, many of which recall Page telling the man to stop immediately and to never do it again, and that he found the whole thing extremely offensive.
A couple of the witness statements relayed that they thought the firefighter had intended his actions to be ‘humorous’, but that Page was not amused.
Page’s lawyer said the incident left him very shaken.
“He endured frankly the most humiliating and degrading experience of his life while working at the fire district, and it impacted him greatly,” said Angus Lee, a Senior Partner at the Angus Lee Law Firm.
In June 2022, Elijah Page had been with the Fire District for just a couple of months after transitioning out of a career with the sheriff’s office, where he was nominated as Deputy of the Year in 2020, and received various other awards during his tenure.
According to court records, the offending firefighter was fired just a couple of days later, but Chief Kristan Maurer assured him via email that she would keep the incident a secret from future employers and wrote that she empathized with his situation.
The lawsuit also alleges that the Fire District issued a gag order, and told Page not to tell anyone about the incident.
Lee says he believes the Fire District wanted to keep it under wraps ahead of a then upcoming fire station tax levy vote, worth up to $4 million in tax revenue. The levy passed successfully last August.
“They violated his first amendment rights, and they treated him poorly considering that he was the victim of a crime,” Lee said. “They were more concerned with the person who threw the noose around him, than they were with Mr. Page.”
Page was constructively discharged from his role later in 2022 due to what the lawsuit referred to as a hostile work environment, saying he no longer felt safe sleeping and working alongside his colleagues.
“How could he feel safe working in an environment where someone had thrown a noose around his neck and his coworkers simply watched it happen?” Lee said. “It’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating, it’s a criminal for a reason, and that’s something that can’t be lost here.”
Fox 12 Oregon reached out to Clark County Fire District 6 for a comment, but they tell us they are currently unable to comment on the case.
There will now be a 60-day waiting period for the Fire District and individual defendants to file responses, and then a trial will take place about a year from now.
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