The women have accused their department of “ignoring and marginalizing” complaints from Black women.
Four Black female firefighters are suing the District of Columbia, claiming that discrimination on the basis of their race and sex prevented them from receiving pay increases and working overtime.
The Washington Post reported that Jadonna Sanders, an arson investigator, Takeva Thomas, Bolatito Ajose, both fire inspectors and Shalonda Smith, a technician inspector who works with healthcare facilities, are suing D.C. Fire and EMS for $10 million. Sanders and Ajose joined the department in 2001, Smith joined in 2006 and Thomas joined in 2012.
According to the lawsuit, overtime opportunities for firefighters are intended to be distributed fairly, giving preference to those who have accrued the fewest overtime hours – but a lieutenant in the division had influence over the procedure and exploited it. Instead, the lieutenant gave himself and his favored employees—all of whom were men—the opportunity to work overtime.
The women also allege the department has been “ignoring and marginalizing” complaints from Black women, and that they have been subjected to disparate and retaliatory disciplinary processes.
In one instance, Ajose, Smith and Thomas were made to appear before disciplinary review boards for activities that either weren’t violations of job performance regulations or were very minor infractions, “while other firefighters weren’t held to the same standards,” The Post reported.
Pamela Smith, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said the case “is about systemic characteristics of [the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services] that turn it into a ‘boys club,’ in which Black women are tolerated, but not embraced or treated as equals, and in which Black women always have to beg, scrape and fight just to be treated fairly,” as quoted in the Post.
Their attorneys also said in a statement that the department “holds African American women to harsher standards and forces them to endure years of investigation and disciplinary action for things that are not disciplined at all in other firefighters.”
This lawsuit follows two other similar incidents, after which D.C. Fire was compelled to sign consent decrees to end discrimination, as reported by Fox 5 DC. In one of the previous lawsuits, which was filed in 2006, female firefighters – one of whom was Ajose – were required to take pregnancy tests and pass them in order to keep their jobs.
Ajose was forced to have an abortion and states in the current lawsuit that she “continues to suffer mental and emotional pain from DC FEMS’ immoral and unlawful policy,” FOX 5 reported.
According to the Post, Jennifer Donelan, a spokeswoman for the fire department, said the department will not comment on a pending lawsuit.