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Milwaukee open to lawsuits following alleged sexual assault from firefighter, attorneys say

Right now, there are only criminal charges against Milwaukee Fire Lieutenant Michael Peden for allegedly sexually assaulting a coworker here at engine 26.

The Fire Department also has an internal investigation underway, but attorneys say the city has opened itself up to potential lawsuits down the road.

Employee Attorney Rebecca Salawdhe says she's represented employees in harassment claims for 20 years, and she noticed plenty of red flags from the criminal complaint against Peden.

"There were complaints about what happened," Salawdhe said. "Complaints that he was harassing her. They let him work alone with her at night. That should never have happened."

The complaint alleges a captain held a firehouse meeting following an initial complaint from the victim about racial harassment.
attorneys say - it could be a problem that the alleged sexual assault happened a month later.

"The law requires them to take effective remedial measures, and it's crystal clear that if you do, you can actually escape liability, but if you don't, look out."

We spoke to the fire department today, and they did not comment, but they did read this prepared statement yesterday.

"Milwaukee Fire Department takes harassment claims very seriously, and has several policies in place to provide a safe work environment for it's members that is free from harassment, sexual harassment, or discrimination."

As for how much a victim could sue for - because it's a public body - there is no limit.

"The city could be liable for millions," said Jeffery Hynes, the head of the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association. "It all depends on what a jury has to say in the end."

We also reached out to the firefighters union and the city attorney's office on the story. Neither had any comment.

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