The Justice Department recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston after the Houston Fire Department (HFD) allegedly discriminated and retaliated against two female firefighters in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to receiving death threats from their male coworkers, one of the women was forced into early retirement due to “intolerable” working conditions.
During the summer of 2009, Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes reported finding racist and sexist graffiti scrawled on their personal items and the women’s dormitory walls at HFD’s Station 54. Besides disconnecting the cold water to their showers in order to scald the women, several male firefighters urinated on the floors, walls, and sinks of the women’s bathroom and dorm.
While issuing death threats to their female coworkers, the male firefighters deactivated the speakers in the women’s dorm to prevent the female firefighters from responding to emergency calls. According to the Justice Department, Draycott and Keyes filed at least nine complaints that failed to stop the abuse and only led to an even more hostile work environment.
“Far too often, women are targeted and harassed in the workplace because of their sex,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from sex discrimination and retaliation.”
“No employee should be subjected to a hostile work environment based on their sex,” U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick stated. “We will aggressively protect employees who are victims of sex discrimination and retaliation and pursue employers who violate the law.”
Accused of retaliating against Draycott for reporting the incessant sexual discrimination, the HFD allowed Draycott’s colleagues to disparage her in an attempt to prevent her from returning to work. Due to the intolerable work conditions that the HFD failed to prevent, Draycott was forced into early retirement, according to the DOJ lawsuit.
On Wednesday, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 released the following statement from HPFFA President Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton: “The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association has urged the City of Houston and other authorities to release findings of investigations of the 2009 allegations related to Station 54. Today’s federal lawsuit provides another opportunity to publicly exonerate the more than 40 firefighters that were polygraphed, gave sworn statements or handwriting samples in, or cooperated with investigations of HFD. We continue to believe the evidence – all of it – should be released immediately.
“From the beginning of this controversy, Houston firefighters have wanted the perpetrator(s) of the incidents at Station 54 found and punished appropriately. We believe in – and have fought for – better working conditions for all Houston firefighters. To that end, dozens of firefighters cooperated in the various investigations of this incident, but unfounded criticism of Houston firefighters has continued for years. Today, as then, the firefighters exonerated in the investigation deserve to be recognized as such. Former Mayor Annise Parker rightly said in 2010 that Houston firefighters were ‘unjustly under a cloud.’ Eight years later, the cloud remains.
“The time has come for authorities to release all of the evidence in this case. Without a proper conclusion, the unjust ‘cloud’ will undermine a basic tenet of our justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Anything short of public acknowledgement of the exonerated firefighters will only foster public misunderstanding of Houston firefighters. Houston firefighters deserve due process and a fair hearing of the facts. We hope this federal case finally sets the record straight on what actually happened at Station 54.”