Fire company says woman broke agreement Dispute arises from sex harassment case


In the latest twist in a 2-year-old sexual harassment dispute, a Rising Sun fire company has accused a woman of breaching the agreement that would have allowed her to return to work on an ambulance crew.

Paula Haavistola, 47, filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Community Fire Company of Rising Sun in 1990, when she was suspended after alleging that an ambulance driver grabbed her buttocks.

An agreement in the case, reached April 28, provided for Mrs. Haavistola's reinstatement, adoption of a sexual harassment policy by the fire company and limits on what could be said to the press about the settlement.

But Glendora C. Hughes, acting general counsel for the Maryland Human Relations Commission, said yesterday that Mrs. Haavistola's reinstatement is being blocked because the fire company contends the former crew member voided the pact by talking about it to the press.

Roger N. Powell, a lawyer for the fire company, said Mrs. Haavistola "decided to set up news conferences and beat her breast and hop on soap boxes and make speeches, in the face of an agreement that prohibited statements to the press. Mrs. Haavistola breached the agreement, and that's the end of the agreement."

Mr. Powell said he couldn't confirm that Mrs. Haavistola had asked to return to work. Fire company President Samuel Coale referred all questions to the lawyer.

Awilda Marquez, a lawyer for Mrs. Haavistola, refused comment.

The fire company lawyer said he had asked the state Office of Administrative Hearings, under whose auspices the settlement was reached, to conduct a new hearing on whether the accord was breached.

But Nicholas Owens, a spokesman for the office, said the settlement "effectively ended our role in the proceeding. We have no jurisdiction over the case at this point."

Ms. Hughes said that if the parties can't reach a compromise, the Human Relations Commission may seek to have the agreement enforced in Cecil County Circuit Court.

"Our position is we have a final order for us to enforce in court," she said. "It's not something we're going to sit on. The idea is to get the complainant [Mrs. Haavistola] to go back to work."

The ambulance driver, Kenneth Truitt, was acquitted in Circuit Court of sexually assaulting Mrs. Haavistola.

A civil suit filed by Mrs. Haavistola against the fire company and Mr. Truitt is pending in federal court.

Mr. Powell said the company has been trained in how to spot sexual harassment.

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