The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston alleging that its fire department allowed the sexual harassment of two female firefighters.
Firefighters Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes were exposed to a hostile work environment while employed at Houston Fire Department’s Station 54, according to the complaint. Court documents allege male firefighters urinated on the walls, floors and sinks of the women’s bathrooms and dormitory, turned off the station’s cold water to scald the women while they were showering and disconnected the female dormitory’s speakers so they could not respond to emergency calls.
In addition, the conduct culminated in death threats and vulgar slurs written on the walls of the women’s living space.
Ms. Draycott and Ms. Keyes complained to management about the harassment at least nine times, the lawsuit said. But the complaints were met with retaliation as co-workers were allowed to publicly disparage Ms. Draycott from returning to work, according to court documents. Ms. Draycott eventually opted for early retirement because of the working conditions.
“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. The Civil Rights Division — under the newly created Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative — will continue to work vigorously to protect employees from these workplace abuses.”
The Justice Department is asking the Houston Fire Department to compensate the two women and implement policies that would prevent sexual discrimination and retaliation.
Ms. Draycott and Ms. Keyes each filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated the charges and made reasonable-cause findings. The EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas and is the first effort to implement its Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, which is aimed at combatting sexual harassment and sex-based harassment in public workplaces.