Borough settles harassment and discrimination suit brought by former firefighter

The borough is not admitting any wrongdoing through the settlement

Kachemak Emergency Services logo.

Kachemak Emergency Services logo.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has settled for $78,500 with a former Kachemak Emergency Services Agency employee who alleged in a 2023 suit that the borough fired her for complaining about sexual harassment.

Courtney Moody, who worked as a firefighter technician for KESA from November 2019 to January 2021, said she experienced sexual harassment by the agency’s deputy chief and was fired after reporting it. That firing, Moody’s suit alleged, was in violation of the Alaska Human Rights Act.

In her initial complaint, filed in January 2023 in Anchorage Superior Court, Moody said she was sexually harassed by KESA’s deputy chief, Mark Clinton, who she said referred to her as a “whore” multiple times, cornered her and told her about his sexual exploits, said he fantasized about KESA’s female employees showering naked and would regularly slap things out of her hands.

After reporting the misconduct to her boss, Chief Bob Cicciarella, the complaint says Cicciarella told Moody that she needed more proof. The suit also says that Cicciarella recommended to Moody that she work from home if she was bothered by the harassment.

Clinton, the suit says, was fired after a male colleague of Moody’s wrote an open letter voicing his concerns about Clinton’s behavior. So, though, was Moody.

“Defendant also fired plaintiff – without any cause whatsover,” the suit says. “The only cause was that plaintiff had been complaining non-stop about Clinton’s abuse and misconduct and defendant wanted to put the whole matter ‘behind it’ — by firing the wrongdoer and the victims of the wrongdoer.”

Through the suit, Moody sought actual and compensatory damages and litigation costs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough in a Feb. 16, 2023, answer to the suit, denied most of Moody’s claims and asked that the complaint be dismissed.

The borough refuted, for instance, Moody’s length and type of employment, denying that she had ever been a full-time paid permanent status borough employee, but only a temporary employee or volunteer. The borough further denies that Moody reported misconduct to Cicciarella and that he asked her for more proof.

The borough also asserted that the damages Moody claimed were not caused by the borough or its employees, that there was no adverse employment action, that her claims may be barred by the statute of limitations and that Moody’s damages, if any, were “proximately caused by her own actions.”

In a statement provided to the Homer News following the settlement, Moody said she is happy with the outcome of the case, and said it is important to hold people accountable.

“This was never about the money, it was always about the principle,” she said. “I never did anything wrong. All I did was say “no,” and I was punished for that. I hope that I’ve brought attention to this issue because it is all too common in the field of Fire and EMS.”

Since filing suit, Moody said she’s been contacted by other women with similar experiences and that she is “honored” to have taken a stance against the behavior she experienced.

“It is my hope that my brothers and sisters continue to strive to honor each other and to abolish the sexist mentality that currently exists,” Moody wrote. “We owe it to our communities and to ourselves to be better.”

In her suit, Moody was represented by Northern Justice Project, a civil rights law firm based in Anchorage. Aneliese Palmer, Moody’s attorney, said Friday that the firm is glad Moody was able to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Courtney is happy to get justice,” Palmer said.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche’s office said in a statement provided to the Clarion on Monday that the settlement saves the borough money in legal fees and allows the parties to move on.

“The recent settlement between the KPB and Courtney Moody was reached in order to save the borough hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs and allow Ms. Moody to move on with her life,” the statement says.

The borough is not admitting any wrongdoing through the settlement.

The office further pointed to a new borough Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Prevention Policy sponsored by Micciche and approved by borough assembly members last summer, which the mayor’s office said shows how Micciche is working to ensure a safe, positive and productive environment for borough employees.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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