Special Report: Norfolk under fire for treatment of female employees

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Humiliation and hostility.  That’s what two women claim happened to them in the Norfolk Fire Marshal’s Office.  The women feel they are treated differently than their male co-workers and are taking the city to court.

“Changes tend to happen when people pay attention to the problems,” said attorney Barry Montgomery.

Montgomery is the attorney for the two women: Karen Baka, a current Norfolk Fire Marshal, and Karen Barnes, who retired from the Fire Marshal’s Office after 30 years of service.

Karen Barnes Complaint | Karen Baka Complaint

“It is a difficult decision to make to go this route,” Montgomery said.

That decision was to file lawsuits in federal court against the city.  Montgomery believes the women weren’t treated the same as their male counterparts.  Baka and Barnes say they weren’t giving the same training opportunities and weren’t allowed to be part of certain assignments.  They both went to Human Resources to voice their concerns.

“They were being treated differently about that, so when they made complaints that’s when everything started,” Montgomery added.

They were hoping for some change, but Montgomery says all they got was hostility and retaliation from supervisors.

Baka, who has been with Norfolk Fire since 1985, says she has been overlooked on purpose for promotions.

“One of her major complaints is failure to not get promoted,” Montgomery said.  “She filed for promotion three separate times for lieutenant and was denied each time.  The job went to male firefighters who did not have as much experience as she did.  She noticed that happened after she made her complaints.”

Barnes, who retired as a lieutenant, says she felt threatened, humiliated and picked on by her boss.  She was told at times that if she went behind his back she would feel his wrath.

“When he would send those e-mails to her, kind of chastising her, he would copy it and send it to other people in the department,” Montgomery added.  “He didn’t do that with other male employees.”

When the complaints to Human Resources fell on deaf ears they felt something had to be done.  That’s when they contacted Montgomery about suing the city.

“I think the driving factor really was the lack of response by management to their complaints and then the actual retaliation by management after the complaints were made,” Montgomery said.

10 On Your Side asked the Norfolk Fire Department about the womens’ claims.  A spokeswoman for the city attorney said the city can’t comment on pending litigation.

“The ultimate goal is to affect some sort of change,” Montgomery added.

Montgomery told 10 On Your Side he believes there are other women out there who are yet to step forward.

“We hope by doing that it sends a message,” Montgomery said.  “If you don’t make the change and you retaliate against people for trying to make change that can be the end result.”

Baka and Barnes are asking for money in salary loses.  Barnes in the form of her early retirement and Baka for they pay she would have gotten by promotion.

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