Washington, D.C. – Investigators  have concluded that fire instructors for the D.C. Fire Department acted inappropriately towards recruits but their actions were not sexual harassment.

Three female recruits for the D.C. Fire Department filed their sexual harassment complaints against fire instructors earlier this year claiming they were sexually harassed by two instructors. The women claimed they were touched inappropriately and instructors made comments about their appearance.

The allegations led to a three-week suspension of one of the instructors but it is unclear where he has been reassigned,the Washington Post reported.

After allegations were filed, the fire department’s Equal Employment Opportunity office launched an investigation.  Investigators interviewed the instructors along with 10 female cadets and 22 male cadets in the recruit class.

According to the Washington Post, six of the female cadets said they never observed any sexual harassment. Four of the women said they witnessed or were subjected to incident that “made them feel uncomfortable.”

One of the women alleged that an instructor chest-bumped her and touched her leg just below her buttocks. In an interview about the incident, the instructor admitted to chest-bumping the recruit but explained he did so because she “overcame her fear concerning the task and the contact was not intended as sexual or inappropriate,” the Washington Post reported.

The other complainant said that another instructor touched her hair and stroked her neck. The instructor explained to investigators that he touched her hair merely to get it out of her face and to determine if she had a hair weave.

While the investigators determined the instructors acted inappropriately, they concluded that the behavior was not sexual harassment and the events were isolated. The inspector general sent a “letter of closure” to the D.C. Fire Department and D.C. Council member Tommy Wells.

The inspector general said the matter was closed and “did not warrant any further action.”

Describing the events as isolated is a key point. There are many incidents that happen in a workplace that may be deemed as inappropriate such as telling a sexually-charged joke or commenting about a person’s appearance or a part of their body. These actions may make a person feel uncomfortable, but is it grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit?

Federal law requires that a person filing a sexual harassment lawsuit must not only prove that the harassing behavior was sexual in nature, but that it is also repeated and pervasive. The behavior must be so pervasive that it creates a hostile working environment and adversely affects the targeted individual. That means that a one-time incident unless it involves a blatant sexual assault is not necessarily sufficient grounds for a civil suit. This is to protect employers and employees from frivolous lawsuits.

A one-time incident that makes an employee feel uncomfortable should be addressed with supervisors, but is only considered sexual harassment if the behavior is repeated and allowed to persist over a prolonged period of time. Sexual harassment suits can be tricky and when an individual thinks they have grounds for a lawsuit, they should contact a sexual harassment attorney to evaluate whether their case will have standing in a civil court.