Houston Fire Department to pay $275K to resolve alleged sexual harassment of female firefighter
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Houston Fire Department to pay $275K to resolve alleged sexual harassment of female firefighter

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The DOJ also belatedly announced the April 2020 settlement of her coworker’s sexual harassment claim for $67,500.

On October 26, 2020, the Justice Department announced a proposed settlement under which the City of Houston will pay $275,000 and provide other relief to resolve allegations that personnel at Houston Fire Department (HFD) Station 54 discriminated and retaliated against a female firefighter because of her sex in violation of Title VII.

Earlier settlement. The DOJ at the same time announced a settlement involving a second female firefighter, although that settlement was reached back in April 2020 but was not disclosed at that time by the department. The city has paid that firefighter $67,500. The reason for the delay in disclosure was not addressed in the DOJ’s press release, but the lawsuit filed by the department in February 2018 sought redress for both firefighters. The DOJ did note, however, that once the court entered this latest consent decree, all claims in the case would be resolved.

Hostile work environment. The two female firefighters were subjected to a hostile work environment based on sex when they were employed at Station 54, located at Bush Intercontinental Airport in north Houston, according to the DOJ’s complaint. During the time that both female firefighters worked at Station 54, they were allegedly subjected to the soiling of their bathroom by male coworkers who urinated against the walls, floors, and sinks of that space. The misconduct escalated over time to dangerous activities that jeopardized the personal safety of the female firefighters and their ability to do their jobs, which included disconnecting the cold water in their showers and silencing the public announcement speakers in their residential areas such that they could not respond to emergency fire calls, the DOJ said.

This misconduct purportedly persisted even though one female firefighter complained about it through her chain of command. Prior to the female firefighters’ transfer to Station 54, other female firefighters who had previously worked there had made similar complaints to the HFD about the misconduct, according to the complaint. However, the HFD allegedly failed to take meaningful steps to stop the discrimination against these other women.

The harassing conduct allegedly culminated in death threats and vulgar race- and gender-based slurs written on the walls of the female firefighters’ work and living spaces and on their personal possessions. The HFD purportedly retaliated against one of the female firefighters who had complained about her working conditions by publicly disparaging her in a workplace meeting in order to force her to leave the station. She ultimately left the HFD’s employment earlier than anticipated due to the intolerable working conditions, according to the DOJ.

More about the settlement. Under the terms of the one-year, October 26, 2020 consent decree, which remains subject to court approval, the City of Houston, in addition to the monetary relief for the affected female firefighter, must provide training to certain supervisory staff and provide proof of compliance for up to 12 months.

"There is no place in the workplace for the type of egregious sexual harassment that these two female Houston firefighters suffered in this case, and the retaliation one firefighter endured after she complained is intolerable and unlawful," said Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband. "Sexual harassment and retaliation of this kind artificially slam shut the doors of equal employment opportunity for women who work in jobs historically dominated by men. These two strong women and anyone else who is hardworking and courageous enough to serve as a first responder deserve the full protection of the Civil Rights Act."

The DOJ filed its complaint in the Southern District of Texas; the case is No. 4:18-cv-00644.

Companies: City of Houston; Houston Fire Department

News: AgencyNews Discrimination SexDiscrimination SexualHarassment Retaliation Whistleblowers GCNNews

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