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Key allegations in four ongoing lawsuits against the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, all focused on former fire chief Steve Mayotte:
Mayotte made vulgar comments to two employees in late 2009 while seeking a battalion chief, a position that would mean a promotion for several aspiring firefighters, suggesting that applicants would engage in sexual acts to curry favor with Mayotte.
A version of the remarks focused on Capt. Buck Condit, whose subsequent lawsuit claimed sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. The lawsuit says Mayotte led a pattern of abuse that included insensitive remarks, inappropriate crass sexual comments ... (and) slanderous remarks, including calling Condit and family members corrupt. Mayottes words were meant to cripple Condits effectiveness as a labor union leader, the complaint states.
I never made a sexually inappropriate remark about Mr. Condit and I never said he was corrupt, Mayotte contends in a sworn declaration. He admitted general remarks about candidates and surmised that someone twisted his words.
It was nothing more than a joke ... made during a good-humored conversation of the type that is common to the culture of fire stations, he added. He cited a culture that is based on camaraderie and trust which often results in a jovial atmosphere were (sic) jokes and ribbing are common-place, and said one of the ways of dealing with stress is joking. Mayotte also said, Each fire department is the same in this regard.
Mayotte suggested that others should have known he was joking because neither he nor Condit is homosexual.
Condits lawsuit should go nowhere, Mayottes attorneys say in briefings, because Mayotte did not offer a promotion in exchange for sexual favors and did not seek a sexual relationship. His remark was but a single, isolated, offensive utterance that was made in jest and was trivial, they said.
After an investigation, Mayotte was suspended one day without pay and required to undergo sensitivity training.
The lawsuit also alleges that Mayotte sabotaged Condits candidacy for battalion chief, a position given to someone else. A trial is scheduled to begin in June.
Firefighter John Smiths lawsuit cites multiple incidents since 2009 in which Chief Mayotte has made discriminatory remarks regarding Smiths age.
The most egregious took place during a 2010 drill involving several companies, when Mayotte, in profanity-laced ridicule, linked Smith to age-related medical conditions and made remarks about Social Security and Medicare. Then 59, Smith was the oldest candidate for battalion chief; Mayotte disqualified Smith from consideration, citing an investigation unknown to Smith alleging Smiths failure to be on time and unprofessional behavior, preventing Smith from having a chance to defend himself as required by the Firefighters Bill of Rights.
The district and Mayotte deny these allegations and assert that (at) all times they complied with the law, a document says.
A trial date is set for July.
Former finance clerk Mary Williams said she was often subjected to hearing Mayottes sexual threesome and porn star fantasies, her lawsuit says. He gave preferential treatment to another female worker who reportedly goaded Williams to apply for the position of Mayottes second wife, vacated by a former employee who wore an apron and cooked for the chief, the lawsuit says.
When Williams complained about arguments with the co-worker over the apron thing, Mayotte would egg them on and watch the show, a document says.
He also denigrated Latinos and other ethnic groups in front of Williams, who performed Spanish interpretation duties, the document says.
Mayotte altered finance and retirement records and time cards, Williams claimed, although that allegation was removed when her initial complaint was amended. She said he warned that anyone who talked to the board would be fired, and she was terminated without cause by Mayotte in February 2011, soon after speaking with the board president. Her lawsuit also claims that she refused Mayottes orders to alter documents.
Papers filed by the agencys attorneys say mere sexual banter, boorish behavior or teasing do not constitute a hostile work environment, and Williams allegation that another female received preferential treatment is meaningless without factual context.
A July trial has been scheduled.
The fire board engaged in a lengthy disciplinary process involving multiple hearings over several months. In his lawsuit, Mayotte objects to a moving target outcome with board members proposing various penalties at different times, ranging from a two-week suspension to firing him before settling on a 60-day suspension without pay and demotion handed down in June, four months after placing him on administrative leave.
In addition to claims raised in the lawsuits, the fire boards investigations found that Mayotte yelled vulgarities and slammed his hand on a table when a woman employee complained of a hostile, stressful and intimidating environment that has turned intense. The board rehired another who had been fired by Mayotte after she cooperated with investigators examining his misconduct, court papers say.
He also changed a labor contract without board approval, misled board members about retirement issues and did not enforce rules requiring two signatures for checks exceeding $2,500, a document says.
The fire board treated Mayotte the same as other employees under formal discipline policies until late in the game when deciding that the policies did not apply to the fire chief, who would have no right to appeal, court papers say. Reduced pay because of the demotion would affect him the rest of his life, the document says.
Had I known that there would be no appeal rights, I would have engaged (legal) counsel from the beginning, Mayotte said in a sworn declaration filed in early December.
Mayotte had been making $117,000 a year. At that rate, he collected about $43,000 from the time he was placed on administrative leave in February to his 60-day suspension starting in June. Knowing his plan to retire in December, the fire board allowed him to stay on paid administrative leave until that time, bringing his total pay while not working to about $75,000.
The agencys attorneys scoffed at Mayottes claims, saying his discipline was based upon countless items of evidence reviewed in at least 11 closed-door fire board meetings from May 2012 to May 2013. It simply cannot be said that (Mayotte) did not have an appeal, a briefing says.
A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Jan. 15 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Williams vs. Stanislaus Consolidated" target="_blank"> Williams vs. Stanislaus Consolidated
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.