THEODORE PRIESTER, JR.
BOARD OF APPEALS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY
Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-012485
Wright, Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.
Baltimore County fire captain sexually harassed numerous
female subordinates and created a hostile work environment in
which employees were afraid to report his misconduct. After
the captain's conduct came to light, the fire department
terminated his employment. He applied for retirement
Board of Trustees of the Employees' Retirement System
denied the captain's application on the ground that he
had not rendered "honorable and faithful service as an
employee, " a condition for the receipt of benefits
under the Baltimore County Code. The Baltimore County Board
of Appeals affirmed that determination, and the Circuit Court
for Baltimore County affirmed the Board of Appeals.
captain appealed to this Court. We affirm.
and Procedural History
C. Priester, Jr., joined the Baltimore County Fire Department
in 1982. He received many commendations throughout his
career, including a Silver Star for heroic conduct in
fighting a fire. He became a lieutenant in 1992 and a captain
in 1999. By March of 2013, he had acquired the rank of Fire
Captain and was in charge of Fire Station 18 in Randallstown.
The "Bathroom Incident"
Station 18 the downstairs bathroom had been designated as the
women's bathroom. Notwithstanding that designation,
Captain Priester would sometimes use the downstairs bathroom.
Duncan-Fulton, an Emergency Medical Technician (or
"EMT"), was sometimes responsible for cleaning the
women's bathroom. On several occasions, she had
complained to a superior officer about Captain Priester's
use of the women's bathroom. According to EMT
Duncan-Fulton, Captain Priester would not flush the toilet or
clean up after himself, and he would leave the bathroom in
what she called a "disgusting" condition.
afternoon of March 15, 2013, Captain Priester, who is over
six feet tall and weighs more than 300 pounds, leaned over
EMT Duncan-Fulton in the station's kitchen and, in a loud
voice, demanded to know whether she had complained about him
using the downstairs bathroom. She said, yes. He responded:
"This is my house, and I'll shit wherever I
want." He added that she was "supposed to clean the
bathroom and like it." He threatened to remove her from
duty if she refused to clean the bathroom. A number of
employees witnessed some or all of this exchange.
Duncan-Fulton told Captain Priester that he was creating a
hostile work environment because of his tone of voice. He
ordered her to meet him in his office.
EMT Duncan-Fulton met with the captain in his office a few
minutes later, he denied that he had yelled her. He said:
"[E]verybody here's going to be a witness that I
didn't yell at you the way you're saying I did."
She responded: "You're absolutely right. They'll
take your side because you let them do whatever the fuck they
want." He told her to leave, and she did. EMT
Duncan-Fulton was extremely upset by Captain Priester's
aggressive demeanor and his threat to remove her. She called
a superior officer, Captain Thomas Hoffman, who intervened
and obtained an apology from Captain Priester.
following day, EMT Duncan-Fulton met with Captain Hoffman and
Captain Franklin E. Penn Jr. In that meeting she reported
that Captain Priester had begun to complain about her job
performance after she resisted his unwelcome advances.
Duncan-Fulton's complaint prompted an internal
investigation. In the meantime, on March 22, 2013, Captain
Priester was summarily suspended from duty.
investigation uncovered allegations that Captain Priester had
sexually harassed numerous female employees, as well as at
least one civilian. The alleged harassment occurred while the
captain was on duty and, in many instances, in the presence
of other employees.
close of the investigation, on April 9, 2013, the fire
department issued a notification of charges, which summarized
the allegations against Captain Priester. In total, the
captain was charged with 19 violations of the fire
department's rules and regulations and two violations of
County rules. The charges included violations of multiple
departmental regulations concerning a captain's duty, a
violation of the fire department's fair practices policy,
and a violation of the County's sexual harassment
The Termination of Captain Priester's Employment
Department's Administrative Hearing Board held a hearing
on the charges against Captain Priester on April 30, 2013.
Although the captain had initially protested that he had
"been falsely accused" of sexually harassing female
employees, he advised the board that he wished to plead no
contest and to submit a letter expressing remorse.
letter Captain Priester expressed regret and remorse,
apologized "for any negative light shown on the
department, " and asked for "due
consideration" for his faithful service throughout his
career. He wrote:
Obviously, had any person advised me that they took offense
to personal actions, comments, or gestures I would have
immediately ceased and desisted. I have always been of a
joking and flirtatious character. The Fire Department has
changed drastically over these past 30 years. Sadly I must
admit, that while climbing the infamous "Dinosaur
List" the department has left me behind. I realize that
the responsibility falls completely to me to keep up with the
changing times. I am especially accountable in my rank of
Fire Captain and held to a higher standard.
another point in the letter, Captain Priester referred to the
"horseplay, hazing, practical jokes, and basic clowning
around of the 'old fire department.'" He
expressed his desire to be allowed to retire.
board found Captain Priester guilty of 19 of the 21 charges
against him and recommended that his employment be
terminated. The Fire Chief, John J. Hohman, accepted that
following day, May 1, 2013, Captain Priester exercised his
right, under the County Code, to appeal the decision to
terminate his employment. In a letter to Chief Hohman,
Captain Priester asked for permission to retire. While
apologizing "for any embarrassment" that he had
caused the department and expressing his understanding that
he "must face some form of discipline, " Captain
Priester appeared to question the bona fides of his accusers:
[I]f one single individual had ever said they were offended I
assure you behavior modification would have been immediate.
Certainly an individual should not be able to hold-back on
issuing a complaint (2 years) until such time [as] they are
in trouble. Also to have the same individual recruit
additional complainants and have identical language is
suspect as well.
department formally terminated Captain Priester's
employment on May 16, 2013.
The Application for Retirement Benefits
31, 2014, Captain Priester filed an application for
retirement in which he sought pension benefits. The Trustees
of the Employees' Retirement System met on December 9,
2014, and voted 4-1 to deny the application.
for the Trustees, the Director of the County's Office of
Budget and Finance explained that, to qualify for retirement
benefits (i.e., "a service retirement allowance")
under the Baltimore County Code, an employee must accumulate
a certain period of "creditable service."
See Balt. County Code § 5-1-213. The Code
defines "creditable service" as "prior
service, " such as service in the armed forces of the
United States, plus "membership service."
Id. § 5-1-201(i). The Code, in turn, defines
"membership service" as "honorable and
faithful service as an employee rendered while a member of
the retirement system." Id. § 5-1-201(p).
The Trustees reasoned that Captain Priester's service
"was not honorable and faithful and is therefore not
creditable towards a retirement allowance."
Appeal to the Baltimore County Office of Administrative
Priester exercised his right to appeal the Trustees'
decision to the Baltimore County Office of Administrative
Hearings ("OAH"). The OAH held four days of
hearings between February 23, 2015, and May 28, 2015.
EMT Duncan-Fulton's Testimony
hearing, EMT Kathleen Duncan-Fulton testified that, after
Captain Priester arrived at Fire Station 18 in 2010, he would
periodically approach her from behind while she was washing
dishes or working at a computer. He would "nibble"
on her neck and ear, use crude language to tell her that he
thought that she was sexually aroused, and make other lewd
and sexually suggestive comments. On other occasions, when he
was in a room with her and other employees, he would call her
name, put his hands to his face, and make a crude gesture
that is meant to signify cunnilingus.
said that Captain Priester would engage in this behavior
"at least once a day on the two days that [she] would
see him and over a span of several months." After
several months, she told him to stop. Shortly thereafter, he
began to complain about her job performance.
Duncan-Fulton testified that she did not immediately report
the harassment because she had been employed with the
department for only nine or ten years, as opposed to Captain
Priester's 30 years. In her view, it was "a little
difficult to think that somebody [was] going to take [her]
side and believe [her]." After the "bathroom
incident, " however, she "finally had enough"
and decided to notify Captains Penn and Hoffman.
County submitted a written statement that EMT Duncan-Fulton
made to the investigators. The statement corroborated the
EMT's testimony and included additional details. For
example, she wrote that when Captain Priester would approach
from behind while she was working, he would press her against
the counter. She also wrote that she attempted not to
"enter a room if he was alone" and that she
"would leave the room if Capt. Priester appeared to be
The Testimony of Captains Penn and Hoffman
Penn and Hoffman corroborated EMT Duncan-Fulton's account
of previous complaints about Captain Priester's misuse of
the women's bathroom. Both captains said that they had
never had any problems with EMT Duncan-Fulton's job
Lieutenant Stevens's Testimony
Michelle Stevens testified that Captain Priester was her
captain for six to eight months when he was assigned to a
different station. She testified that while she was working
at a computer, Captain Priester would "put his hand on
[her] leg and run it up [her] thigh." She would tell him
to "knock it off" or "say please don't do
that" or try to "laugh it off."
lieutenant "tried to not put [her]self in
situations" where she could be subject to Captain
Priester's harassment. In an attempt to protect herself,
she said that she did not go into closed rooms with Captain
firefighting operations, Captain Priester would "pat her
butt" or behave inappropriately by touching women. He
would call her "toots, " to which she would reply,
"[C]all me Lieutenant Toots[.]"
Stevens said that Captain Priester would make inappropriate
gestures to make others laugh. She said that people would
laugh because they did not want to be "singled
asked whether she thought that Captain Priester was just
joking, Lieutenant Stevens said that he might have been, but
that he did not stop once he was told to stop. She added that
he was in the position of power. She had begun as an EMT and
had gotten promoted to the position of fire-suppression
officer, and she believed that he did not want her "on
the fire side."
Stevens said that she did not immediately report Captain
Priester's harassment because she did not "want to
be labeled." She stated that it was difficult for women
to report harassment in the Baltimore County Fire Department
and that she reported Captain Priester's harassment only
after she was questioned by Battalion Chief Peter Hill. On
cross-examination, she explained that the department is
"a paramilitary organization." "You go to your
Captain first for everything."
letter to Battalion Chief Hill, which was admitted into
evidence at the hearing, Lieutenant Stevens wrote that she
"struggled with the decision" to reveal any issues
with Captain Priester, because it was difficult to be a
woman, and a woman fire-suppression officer, in the Baltimore
County Fire Department. Like EMT Duncan-Fulton's written
statement, Lieutenant Stevens's letter corroborated her
testimony and included additional details. She wrote that
Captain Priester would breathe on her neck, kiss her neck,
and whisper in her ear and that he would breathe heavily when
she answered a telephone call that he had placed. Other
employees would laugh when they witnessed his conduct.
Stevens would "try to laugh it off too, " because
she did not want to be (in her words) "shunned" and
did not "want a 'label.'" In her testimony,
she said, ...