South Kitsap firefighters sue department for sexual harassment

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. — Two female firefighters are suing South Kitsap Fire and Rescue over claims that they were sexually harassed by a former battalion chief.

According to documents filed in Kitsap Superior Court, an internal investigation found former Battalion Chief Michael Wernet made "unwelcome" and "offensive sexual comments" toward the two female officers, but was never disciplined and was allowed to retire.

The women claim Wernet began sexually harassing them after he became battalion chief in 2016. South Kitsap officials say Warnet was hired in Nov. 1985 and retired in Jan. 2017.

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Court documents state he called the two women "Captain Camel Toe" and "Firefighter Moose Knuckle." In another instance, Wernet was accused of shooting the contents of a syringe on one of the women and making a crude remark. He was also alleged to have made sexual comments regarding one woman’s relationship with her husband.

Assistant fire chief Jeff Faucett told KIRO 7 that when the allegations were brought forward the department launched an internal investigation. Faucett said Warnet retired before the investigation was completed with full benefits.

The lawsuit alleges that, through Wernet, the fire district engaged in a hostile work environment and is liable for unspecified damages for emotional distress, harm, humiliation and "loss of enjoyment of life."

They are asking for unspecified damages plus attorney fees. Both women are still employees at South Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

In an answer to the complaint obtained by KIRO 7, attorneys for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue state that it “took prompt corrective action” to end any reports of harassment and that the department is not "strictly liable" for Wernet’s alleged words or actions.

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