Sexual harassment suit looms for city

  • Andrea Waters, pictured above in 2012, has filed claims against the City of Petaluma. (Argus-Courier file photo)

After leaving the Petaluma Fire Department in June amidst allegations that she was sexually harassed by her male colleagues, firefighter Andrea Waters has retained legal counsel and appears to be gearing up for a lawsuit against the City of Petaluma.

A memo sent to all employees of the Petaluma Fire Department on July 14 by Fire Chief Larry Anderson states that Waters “is contemplating filing a lawsuit” and as such, all employees are required to preserve any communication that mentions her directly or indirectly, including emails and text message, “whether or not Ms. Waters was the author or recipient of the communications and whether or not the communication specifically refers to her by name.”

The memo goes on to say, “Her counsel wants to ensure that all members of the Petaluma Fire Department preserve all information and data not only on devices owned and/or controlled by the City of Petaluma, but also on personally owned computers, telephones or other devices.”

City Attorney Eric Danly confirmed that Waters has filed two claims against the city, one related to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which covers sexual harassment claims, and one for unemployment.

Behind closed doors on Monday, the Petaluma City Council is expected to discuss Waters’ case with Danly to prepare for “anticipated litigation” and the city’s response to the claims.

“She’s obviously consulted an attorney,” said David Levine, a professor of law at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law who specializes in federal and state civil procedure.

He explained that, for an employee to pursue a lawsuit against a city body, they must first file a claim.

“This happens all the time,” Levine said. “A claim has been presented, and they are legally obligated to respond.” He added that the city can either choose to settle the claim, which typically involves paying the injured party for damages, or reject it as unfounded.

“A huge percentage of these claims are rejected,” Levine said. “If they reject it, she can then proceed with a lawsuit.”

Danly said his office would conduct its own investigation into the claims, which may include hiring an outside investigator or using Petaluma Police Department officials.

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