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August 29, 2013

Fire chief's assistant sues Peabody

Firefighters, mayor named in sexual harassment complaint

PEABODY — The administrative assistant to fire Chief Steve Pasdon has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging that she was sexually harassed and threatened with termination over an incident last November involving sex toys.

Barbara Debruyckere’s suit names former Deputy Chief Eric Harrison as the man who harassed her by displaying the sex toys at work and telling her to take them to Pasdon’s office. She faulted Pasdon, Deputy Chief Ronald Ciampa and Mayor Ted Bettencourt for failing to respond promptly to his behavior.

In a written statement, Bettencourt replied, “A full investigation was undertaken by our legal department. ... A disciplinary action hearing was initiated by my office as required by law. Prior to the hearing, the city reached an agreement with Eric Harrison for his immediate separation of employment from the Peabody Fire Department. The City of Peabody acted appropriately and consistent with city policy and state law. We will defend the case accordingly.”

In the complaint, filed on Debruyckere’s behalf by attorney John Slattery, Debruyckere says that on Nov. 15, 2012, she went to the fire alarm office on business and encountered a group of male firefighters. “Harrison, with a smirk on his face and holding a shipping type manila envelope, said to Ms. Debruyckere in front of all the men, ‘Barbara, we are all adults here, aren’t we?’ Harrison and the other men in the room began to smirk, snicker and stare at her,” the complaint said.

She responded, “Yes we are, but I’m the only woman here,” according to her filing.

Then, Harrison took the sex toys out of the envelope, she said.

“All the men present were laughing and staring at Ms. Debruyckere at this point,” the complaint said. She reported feeling “humiliated, embarrassed and sick to her stomach” and said she could not catch her breath. Harrison told her the items were discovered in the locker of a retired firefighter, then handed the envelope to her and told her to put it on the chief’s desk — something, she said, he could have done himself.

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