Local

‘Degrading, insulting’ behavior toward women gets Tacoma firefighter suspended without pay

Ryan Mudie
Ryan Mudie Courtesy

A Tacoma firefighter who is president of the firefighters’ union Local 31 was suspended for 30 days without pay after an investigation found he regularly used derogatory terms to describe women and those who disagreed with him.

Ryan Mudie served the suspension from Oct. 29 to Nov. 20.

“Your language and behavior are degrading and insulting and absolutely cannot be tolerated,” Chief James Duggan wrote in a Sept. 13 letter to Mudie. “Your behavior has made it difficult for me to justify allowing you to remain in the workplace.

“I continue to have grave concerns about your ongoing employment in this department.”

Duggan went on to tell Mudie he is not firing him and hopes the suspension is enough to correct the offensive behavior.

Mudie filed a grievance against his punishment.

The 40-year-old has worked as a Tacoma firefighter since 2003 and is currently a paramedic on Engine 10, which is stationed in the 7200 block of South Park Avenue. He has served as union president since 2012 and made $112,696 in 2017, according to city data.

Mudie declined to be interviewed for this story but provided a statement to The News Tribune.

“I believe that I have been disciplined without just cause by the City of Tacoma and in violation of my union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city,” he said.

Mudie did not elaborate, but letters from his attorney to the city and the city’s investigator indicate he believes the city did not adequately inform him about the specifics of the allegations prior to or during the investigation.

Because of that, Mudie never agreed to an interview with the investigator and has yet to address the accusations, according to public records obtained by The News Tribune.

A Tacoma Fire spokesman said an outside arbitrator has not been assigned to the grievance, and it is unknown when the case will be concluded. As such, Duggan declined to be interviewed for this story.

THE ACCUSATION

A typed, two-page letter was delivered to fire officials in February 2018. The writer alleges Mudie “is one of the most disgusting individuals” and believes he is immune to punishment because he is union president.

The letter was unsigned.

The writer claimed Mudie uses pejorative terms when speaking about female firefighters, including a former deputy chief, while on and off duty.

Mudie was accused of using five inappropriate terms or phrases to describe female colleagues and men who disagreed with him. The News Tribune has decided not to publish what it considers the most offensive terms.

“While there are others in the department that have issues with women on the job, Mudie is by far the most inappropriate and disgusting,” wrote the accuser, who implied she is or was a Tacoma firefighter. “How do we change cultural norms when there are no boundaries now for some individuals?”

The letter provided the names of 26 people who allegedly had first-hand knowledge of Mudie’s inappropriateness, and the writer begged officials to talk to them.

“The time has come to expose what many of us have come to know as common practice,” she wrote in the letter, citing the #MeToo movement.

Harassment against female firefighters is not uncommon.

Across the country, women have won lawsuits against departments that allowed sexual harassment, name calling or discrimination for gender.

The first female firefighter with Country Club Hills in Illinois was awarded $11 million last year after a jury found she was suspended for complaining about male colleagues who made lewd comments to her and openly watched pornography on duty.

In May, two battalion chiefs with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue in Virginia filed federal civil rights charges against the department claiming they were punished for speaking out against sex discrimination and harassment. The department has been plagued with accusations of systematic sexual harassment and multiple lawsuits after the 2016 suicide of a female firefighter who was bullied and sexually harassed on a message board.

Women made up just 3.5 percent of all career firefighters in 2017, which is down 5.3 percent from 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.

Out of the 384 commissioned firefighters in Tacoma, 44 (or 11.5 percent) are women.

THE INVESTIGATION

The city hired an outside attorney to investigate the allegations against Mudie, paying her firm $36,255 last year.

Sheryl Willert, an attorney at Williams, Kastner & Gibbs, spent six months looking into the matter.

Willert interviewed 41 current and former employees, including 23 of the 26 named in the anonymous letter.

In August, she submitted a 14-page report concluding that Mudie was guilty of three of the five accusations.

Among the findings:

Mudie “routinely used” the word “bitch” to describe women while at work or during union functions.

He used a pejorative term to describe a former deputy chief and a former Honor Guard leader.

He used a crude term in reference to firefighters “with whom he does not agree.”

The investigator was unable to substantiate that Mudie used another crude phrase demeaning women or said women are “on the rag.”

Few specific incidents or dates are listed in the investigative report, but several interviewees referenced a 2013 trip to Colorado Springs to honor fallen firefighter Albert Nejmeh.

Mudie allegedly got into an argument with a former Honor Guard leader and used an offensive term in reference to her.

Willert chose not to include the names of the 41 people interviewed because several told her they feared retaliation by Mudie or the union and could not afford to lose their jobs.

“Still others reported that they had concerns that if firefighter Mudie and others were to be able to find out their identities, firefighter Mudie and individual supporters would engage in a campaign of beating people down and making their lives within the department uncomfortable,” according to the report.

PAST TROUBLES

Mudie was accused of sexual discrimination against a female firefighter in October 2008, according to city records.

The woman did not report the incident, but one of her superiors did after hearing about it.

She claimed Mudie belittled her job performance and made offensive sexual comments. When she protested, he allegedly called her a “lame old bitch.”

A city investigation ensued.

“The statements from both parties contradicted the other, thereby canceling out each other’s statements,” according to city records. “There were no witnesses, nor any other evidence that would support the allegation.”

In 2005, Mudie got in trouble for an off-duty incident that took place after Seafair.

Mudie drunkenly collided with another other boater and got into a confrontation, then deliberately struck a King County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol boat. He admitted to being “aggressive and out of line,” according to his personnel file, and had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit.

After being placed in a holding cell, Mudie told one of the deputies, “I hope you never need help in my district.”

Then-Chief Ron Stephens suspended Mudie for two shifts following that incident.

Mudie has received numerous awards during his time with the department for excellence in public service, being a safe driver and offering quality service and customer satisfaction.

Stacia Glenn covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. She started with The News Tribune in 2010. Before that, she spent six years writing about crime in Southern California for another newspaper.


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