Chicago Fire Department under fire — for workplace violence against a woman
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The Chicago Fire Department has already been accused of creating a hostile work environment where women are sexually harassed with impunity by their superiors and a “code of silence” covers it up.
Now, the department faces yet another embarrassing incident — this time involving an allegation of violence in the workplace against a woman.
The Fire Department has launched an internal investigation — and filed a police report — after a male firefighter allegedly grabbed and bruised a female firefighter during a violent argument at a South Side firehouse witnessed and immediately broken up by co-workers.
The $95,484-a-year male firefighter/paramedic identified by witnesses as the “aggressor” in the physical confrontation is Jerry Jones III, sources said. The female victim was identified as a firefighter/paramedic.
Both Jones and the victim have been transferred pending the outcome of an internal investigation that could culminate in a lengthy suspension for Jones. He is now working downtown. She is assigned to a firehouse on the Southeast Side.
Jones could not be reached for comment.
Sources familiar with the investigation say the “loud exchange of words” that turned physical occurred last week at Engine No. 72, 7974 S. Chicago.
Jones, assigned to Tower Ladder 34, reportedly made a disparaging remark about the performance of the engine company that includes the woman.
She took offense. That’s when the 6-foot-5-inch Jones told her to “shut the f— up” and physically “attacked” her, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
One witness claimed Jones threw the victim across the room. Other sources said Jones grabbed his female colleague with both of his hands, squeezed hard enough to leave bruises and pushed her. Colleagues who witnessed the exchange stepped in immediately and “broke up” the altercation, sources said.
Either way, the incident was characterized as “violence in the workplace” that cannot be tolerated.
Fire Department brass considered the incident so egregious, they went ahead and filed a police report, even though the victim — for the time being, at least — chose not to press charges.
They also opened an internal investigation expected to lead to a lengthy suspension.
“CFD has zero tolerance for violence in the workplace. We are currently investigating a reported incident at a firehouse that involves conduct between two members,” Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford wrote in an emailed statement.
“Our Internal Affairs Division is conducting interviews and will serve charges if warranted. A police report has been filed by the Department and is pending investigation.”
City Hall disclosed that both members are “still working, but have been reassigned to other firehouses” pending the outcome of the investigation.
The alleged manhandling of a female firefighter could not come at a more difficult time for the Chicago Fire Department.
Last week, five female paramedics filed a federal lawsuit accusing their superiors of sexual harassment.
The suit alleged that the Chicago Fire Department “directly encourages” the illegal behavior by failing to “discipline, supervise and control” its officers and by intimidating and punishing women who dare to report the harassment.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously acknowledged a “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department in the unrelenting furor that followed release of video played around the world of white Police Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots that killed black teenager Laquan McDonald.
But the explosive lawsuit filed by the five women claimed there is a similar “code of silence” in the fire department.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction aimed at remedying the hostile work environment.
In addition to being ill-timed, last week’s altercation has a political sub-plot.
Jones is the son of Bishop Jerry Jones Sr. of the Apostolic Assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The elder Jones became known to colleagues as “Chicago’s firefighting bishop” during a 28-year career that ended in June 2005 when he retired from his dual role as assistant fire commissioner and chief officer of diversity.
Jones III is one of the African-American firefighters bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.
Emanuel settled the case by hiring 111 black firefighters, including Jones, and by borrowing the $78.4 million needed to compensate nearly 6,000 African-Americans who never got that chance.
The victim was part of a class of female firefighter applicants who filed their own lawsuit against the city. It happened after they passed the written entrance exam, but failed a controversial and now-abolished test of upper body strength that allegedly discriminated against women.