Minneapolis settles firefighters’ harassment suit

The Minneapolis City Council has approved a $58,000 settlement to end a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by two firefighters.

LeAnn Stearns, who has since retired from the department, and Siobhan Mullen, who still works there, say former Fire Captain David Pergande repeatedly harassed them when the three were assigned to a north Minneapolis fire station in 2010.

Their suit alleges Pergande “sought companionship” from the two women “like he would a wife, rather than a co-worker,” demanding they make him breakfast and entering their sleeping space unannounced. They also claim Pergande retaliated against them for “objecting to his advances.”

UPDATE 1/27: Pergande denies the allegations, calling them “rumor and innuendo.”

He contends the women disliked him because of his conservative political beliefs and misconstrued his attempts at camaraderie.

“You’re running into burning buildings together, you ought to be able to sit at the coffee table together and have a cup of coffee,” Pergande said.

The women say Minneapolis was aware of past alleged harassment by Pergande and should have warned them when the department transferred him to their fire station. They sought more than $100,000 in damages .

“The City entered into the settlement to end the litigation so that the Fire Department could focus on its main mission instead of defending litigation and to allow the plaintiffs to put this behind them as well,” City Attorney Susan Segal said in an email.

Pergande is no longer employed by the city. He did not immediately respond to phone calls and messages seeking comment. He retired from the Fire Department in 2012.

Here’s the lawsuit:

Back in 2006, former Minneapolis Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek was demoted, following several sexual harassment lawsuits. That ordeal cost the city more than $650,000 in lawyer fees, legal payouts and other expenses.