Cincinnati fire chief terminated over 'unhealthy' workplace culture toward women
Cincinnati City Manager Sheryl Long Friday notified Fire Chief Michael Washington that he is being terminated.
Long says multiple complaints from female Cincinnati Fire Department employees about a hostile work environment toward women in the department led to a need for change. Some of those complaints predate Long's appointment to the city manager role last September.
After Long started the job, the city manager's office ordered Washington undertake a workplace climate assessment, but Long says that report was never done.
The city then contracted Women Helping Women to deliver trainings to CFD staff on gender issues, but the organization and city administration weren't satisfied with the way Washington implemented the initial trainings, the city says. A memo from Women Helping Women pinned the culture problems on department leadership.
"Overwhelmingly, from female participants, we heard that their voices are not engaged or present in leadership decisions, including promotional panels, and a sentiment of zero confidence in issues of harassment being adequately addressed by [the] city," that memo reads. "Following the training we received calls to our hotline and directly to staff for support."
Now, Long says, the city doesn't believe Washington can make the required changes to the department's culture.
"The chief did not take this seriously," Long said in an interview. "There were plenty of conversations between him and I.
"We brought in a resource to give him an opportunity to reset the department," she continued." And during that reset, what Women Helping Women stated was that there was a level of undermining the ability for them to do a proper training. And also through that, they spoke to the fire department as essentially a boys' club."
Washington released a statement today highlighting his three decades as a firefighter with CFD and saying he has retained Finney Law Firm as legal counsel in the matter.
"I am thankful for my colleagues at the Cincinnati Fire Department, my friends and my family for supporting me throughout my 30 years of service to the City of Cincinnati," Washington said in the release. "My time at the department has been one of my life's most rewarding experiences and I will be forever grateful for my chance to serve."
Assistant fire chief over the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Operations Division, Steven Breitfelder, is now interim chief. The city will contract a third-party firm to conduct a national search for a permanent chief.
The city cited other issues with Washington news release announcing his dismissal, including the chief's absence during a major fire last month.
Mayor Aftab Pureval says he supports the leadership change.
“Every employee deserves a safe and fair workplace, and we have to unequivocally reject and rectify violations of that environment,” Pureval said in a statement. “I fully support City Manager Long’s decision, and we will continue to support her during our work to make CFD a healthy and welcoming place for women.”
The city has released documents related to Washington's dismissal here.