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Borough settles with Kachemak fire tech in employment discrimination suit

Kachemak Emergency Services in Fritz Creek in 2023.
Riley Board
Kachemak Emergency Services in Fritz Creek in 2023.

A former firefighter sued the Kenai Peninsula Borough last year for employment discrimination after she says she spoke out about sexual harassment in the workplace. In January, she settled out of court with the borough and says she hopes the case sends a message about women working in the emergency response field.

Courtney Moody was a fire technician at Kachemak Emergency Service Agency in Fritz Creek, east of Homer, until early 2021. A lawsuit filed in Jan. 2023 says Moody was repeatedly sexually harassed by her boss, and that she received no response after reporting it to the area chief.

According to the lawsuit, the borough eventually fired Moody’s boss after a male colleague shared a letter about his behavior toward multiple women. Shortly after, Moody was also fired. She says she never received a reason for her firing.

The borough hired Anchorage law firm Farley & Graves. The firm responded to the suit in Feb. 2023, denying many of Moody’s allegations and stating that she was a temporary employee, hired for a four-month stint that ended in early 2021.

Moody’s attorney, Aneliese Palmer with the Anchorage-based civil rights firm Northern Justice Project, disagrees with the borough’s defense. She said the timing of Moody’s termination speaks for itself.

The parties settled out of court for $78,500 and the case was dismissed on Jan. 5. Palmer said she views the decision to settle as a product of the strength of the case.

Sean Kelley, the borough attorney, said in an email that settling is not an admission to any claims in the case. He said the borough determined a no-fault resolution was in the best interest of all parties, and that avoiding a trial was the best financial choice for the borough.

“It is a long, expensive process to take cases to trial and in this particular situation a cost-benefit analysis favored an out-of-court resolution when compared to projected outlays for attorney fees, expert fees, and costs of drawn-out litigation,” Kelley said.

He said he hopes the settlement gives Moody closure.

She said it does, and sees the settlement as a victory. She also hopes it brings attention to issues with workplace culture within the fire and emergency response fields.

“This was never about the money, it was always about the principle,” Moody said. “I never did anything wrong. All I did was say ‘no,’ and I was punished for that.”

Moody said the culture of sexism and harassment in emergency response careers is prevalent, and compounds the built-in difficulties of the job.

“You expect to see horrible things on this path — blood, death, sorrow, etc. — but you don’t expect your partners to betray you in such a primal sense,” she said. “As we challenge disaster as medics and firefighters, we should be able to trust the people that walk beside us, not fear them.”

Moody says since working at Kachemak Emergency Services, she’s had more positive experiences when dealing with harassment situations at other workplaces.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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