The case of the fire department “deals with systemic characteristics of [the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services] that make it a ‘boys club’, where black women are tolerated but not embraced or treated as equals, and where black women always have to beg, scrape and fight just to be treated fairly.” said one of the plaintiffs. The lawyers, Pamela Keith, said in a statement.
The DC attorney general’s office, which represents the city in civil litigation, did not respond to a request for comment. Jennifer Donelan, a spokeswoman for the fire department, said the department would not comment on a pending lawsuit. The police department has also declined to discuss the specific allegations in the lawsuit he faces.
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The plaintiffs in the fire department case are identified in the complaint as Jadonna Sanders, arson investigator; Takeva Thomas and Bolatito Ajose, both fire inspectors; and Shalonda Smith, a technical inspector who works with health facilities.
The women, who are seeking $10 million in damages and an injunction barring future discrimination by the department, say they have been unfairly denied pay raises and opportunities to work overtime on the basis of race and sex, and have been object of “different treatment and retaliation”. Disciplinary practices.” They also accuse the department of “ignoring and marginalizing” complaints from black women.
The lawsuit says that while the department has written policies on how specific jobs should be performed, firefighters often “learn the methods of conduct in the field…by working with older, more experienced firefighters. These common standards are practiced so widely that they become the standard of operations.”
Still, the women say, the department “occasionally chooses to force some firefighters to the letter of the rule and discipline them, while looking the other way about all firefighters.” The suit says Ajose, Smith and Thomas were required to appear before disciplinary review boards “for actions that were not violations or were technical violations” of job performance rules, while other firefighters were not held to the same standards.
All four plaintiffs work in the department’s fire prevention division, which handles fire inspections, fire investigations and fire safety education programs for the public, according to the lawsuit. Although overtime opportunities are supposed to be offered to firefighters on an equitable basis, favoring those who have accumulated the least amount of overtime, the women allege that a division lieutenant controlled and abused the process.
“While overtime assignment policies existed,” the complaint says, the lieutenant “had the authority and discretion to override the policies and award overtime opportunities to his preferred employees.” For several years, the lieutenant “rigged the overtime allocation system to give himself excessive overtime and consistently denied plaintiffs overtime opportunities.” All of the “preferred employees” were men, the suit says.
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Sanders and Ajose have been firefighters since 2001. Smith joined the department in 2006 and Thomas in 2012.
“All of the plaintiffs are veteran firefighters … and have proven their worth to the organization,” the suit says. “Despite that fact, when they expressed concern about the way they were paid, and despite [their labor union] helping them pursue those claims, their complaints were ignored and marginalized.”
The women have “observed their non-black colleagues raising concerns and being responded to quickly and promptly, or at a minimum responded to in a timely manner,” the suit says.
The department “holds African American women to higher standards and forces them to endure years of investigation and disciplinary action for things that did not discipline other firefighters at all,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement.