Justice Dept. sues Houston over harassment of female firefighters

File photo. Source: Pond5

March 1 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston, saying its fire department discriminated against two female firefighters and retaliated after their complaints.

According to the suit, firefighters Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes were subjected to a hostile work environment at Houston Fire Department Station 54.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in the Southern District of Texas. It says male firefighters at the station engaged in various forms of harassment — including urinating on walls, floors and sinks of the women’s bathroom and dormitory. It says they also disconnected the cold water to scald the women when they showered and deactivated speakers in their dorm so they couldn’t hear emergency calls.

The suit also says death threats and slurs were written on their possessions.

“This conduct continued despite at least nine complaints made to management,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Prosecutors say the Houston Fire Department retaliated against Draycott by allowing co-workers to publicly disparage her to prevent her from returning to work, which ultimately forced her into early retirement.

City officials did not immediately respond to the accusations.

Other female firefighters who’d worked at Houston’s Station 54 have previously made similar complaints to the department, which did not lead to corrective action, officials said.

“Far too often, women are targeted and harassed in the workplace because of their sex,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the department’s Civil Rights Division. “Employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from sex discrimination and retaliation.”

U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick said no employee should be subjected to a hostile work environment based on their sex.

“We will aggressively protect employees who are victims of sex discrimination and retaliation and pursue employers who violate the law,” Patrick said.

The lawsuit seeks to require the Houston Fire Department to develop and implement policies to prevent sex discrimination and retaliation, and also seeks unspecified compensation for Draycott and Keyes.


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