From the time Monarch Fire Protection District firefighter Donna Kessler was hired in 1995, and Dana Buckley not long after that, they said four senior officers constantly made life in the firehouse difficult for them as women.
Legally, the district's employment ambiance was deemed a “hostile work environment” — and recently, an appeals court agreed. Now, both women are back to working productively in the firehouse, each with a promotion and the support of coworkers, they said.
Kessler and Buckley brought an employment discrimination suit against Monarch in 2007. Both, though, have been continuously employed by the district from the time they were hired. Buckley is now an engineer, a promotion that requires the skill to drive every vehicle in the district. Kessler is an emergency management services (EMS) supervisor.
The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict in November. The women were awarded $200,000 apiece. They had sought $500,000 each. Two days after the verdict was upheld, on Nov. 19, Assistant Chief Les Crews, Deputy Chief Cary Spiegel and Battalion Chiefs Fred Goodson and Mike Davis.
The four fired officers have been .
Kessler and Buckley said their coworkers in the firehouse supported them, but not the four officers.
When Buckley filed a grievance in the department, she said, “the assistant chief’s immediate response was extremely condescending and dismissive. His exact words were, ‘Now Dana, you really don’t believe we’re discriminating against you, do you?’”
Kessler said they had nowhere to go beyond the assistant chiefs.
“It’s not like a huge corporation, or if the city was involved,” she said. “There’s nobody beyond these people to go to for help.”
A letter sent by certified mail to district board members got no response.
Then-board member Richard Gans said he knew Kessler and Buckley wanted the board involved and he admits the board never met with them. Gans' comments are from the court transcripts, Mary Anne Sedey, Kessler and Buckley’s attorney said.
"The district has personnel procedures which were followed in this case," Gans said in an email to Patch on Thursday. "This is governed by both the Memorandum of Understanding with the union and the district’s operating procedures, which has a chain of command. There was board involvement in Buckley’s case, as per these procedures. There was no involvement with Kessler, as there was no specific grievance or disciplinary matter presented to the board which pertained to her."
Sedey said the board chose to let the managers in the firehouse handle the situation.
A human relations expert hired by the district, when the women requested an independent third party to look into it, called the firehouse’s procedure “chilling.” “(The expert) believed that there was discrimination and they just blew it off,” Sedey said.
Kessler told the expert they were not asking for anyone to be fired. They wanted the chiefs to be trained and for the behavior to stop. “They refused to do that,” Kessler said.
Kessler said the firings had nothing to do with the union. She said anyone who says that has political motives.
“I went through hell. My kids went through hell,” she said. “This is about discrimination.”
“You can’t make something up, go to court, and have a jury of 12 people find in your favor unanimously and then upheld by the appeals,” she said.
Both are positive about their future, and are in positions they earned fair and square, positions they attained before they won the appeal.
“They competed for them,” Sedey said. “They displayed their skills and got the job based on that.”
“The culture, slowly and surely, being built at Monarch, is that this is going to be a great place to work for everyone,” Buckley said. “That’s all we ever wanted from the beginning.”