Harassment claims filed against Golden Valley Fire officials

<b>At left</b> Golden Valley Fire District Board member Rhonda Brooks <br><b>At right:</b> Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue (file photos) <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

<b>At left</b> Golden Valley Fire District Board member Rhonda Brooks <br><b>At right:</b> Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue (file photos) <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

GOLDEN VALLEY - A former administrative assistant and manager for Golden Valley Fire District is seeking a $75,000 settlement to avoid litigation over alleged sexual harassment and retaliation for filing complaints of board member misconduct.

Nicole Guerrero filed an official complaint with Golden Valley Fire Chief Tom O'Donohue in June 2013 regarding harassing emails from board member Rhonda Brooks.

Guerrero claims that Brooks became "visibly angry" at her during an executive board session in which Guerrero was asked to give her opinion on a matter and she differed with Brooks' opinion.

From that point forward, Brooks would be "extremely rude and harassing" to Guerrero every time she came into the office dissatisfied about something, according to an Aug. 21 letter from Tyler Allen law firm in Phoenix.

Guerrero also claims that O'Donohue allowed one of his friends to sexually harass her in the office and that she was demoted in retaliation for filing complaints.

Allen has requested documentation from the fire district to preserve information and evidence, including Guerrero's personnel files, complaints and communications.

"It is clear that Ms. Guerrero has been the victim of ongoing and relentless retaliation in violation of whistleblower protection laws and the Arizona Employment Protection Act," the attorney said in his letter to O'Donohue.

Calls from the Daily Miner to board member Brooks for comment were not returned.

O'Donohue took a call Wednesday, but said he was unable to comment on the dispute and turned it over to Assistant Chief Jack Yeager.

The district is handling the complaint along with Stacy Gabriel, an independent third-party investigator from Scottsdale.

"The investigation will include all evidence and data materials, complaint letters and face-to-face interviews with as many witnesses as deemed necessary by Ms. Gabriel," Yeager said in an email statement to the Daily Miner.

The next course of action will be determined following the investigation in about 30 days.

Yeager said he took over the matter to "maintain the purity of the investigation" and to avoid any speculation or accusation that O'Donohue influenced the process.

In May, O'Donohue allegedly told Guerrero that one of his friends had a serious infatuation with her, jokingly referring to the person as her "stalker." A few weeks later, the fire chief's friend came into the office and approached Guerrero, calling her his "future wife," according to attorney Allen's letter.

Despite his knowledge of the unwelcome advances, O'Donohue closed his office door and ignored the situation. The friend asked "extremely inappropriate and threatening questions" about Guerrero's children, such as who's watching them and where they are while she and her husband are at work, the letter said.

Guerrero sent O'Donohue another formal complaint in June regarding Brooks' ongoing harassment and retaliatory behavior. Following that complaint, tension increased dramatically in the office and O'Donohue suddenly became dissatisfied with Guerrero's work, she said. Her hours were reduced and her job duties eliminated.

The proposed $75,000 settlement amounts to 18 months compensation and benefits for Guerrero, plus legal fees.