Justice Dept sues Houston for sex discrimination, retaliation against female HFD employees

Paula Keyes & Jane Draycott
Paula Keyes & Jane Draycott

HOUSTON – The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas against the city of Houston, accusing the Houston Fire Department of discrimination against two female firefighters on the basis of sex. 

The lawsuit alleges that the two women, identified as Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes, were subjected to a hostile work environment -- which included men urinating on walls, floors and the sinks of the women’s bathroom and dormitory, according to the DOJ. It also alleges that cold water was disconnected to scald the women while they were showering, and deactivating the female dormitory’s announcement speakers so the women could not respond to emergency calls.

Houston Fire is also accused of retaliation against Draycott in response to her complaints by allowing colleagues to disparage her in an attempt to prevent her from returning to work, according to the lawsuit. The department is also accused of forcing Draycott into early retirement because of her intolerable working conditions.

File: Lawsuit filed by DOJ against city of Houston

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 341 released a statement Wednesday from HPFFA President Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton: 

"The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association has urged the City of Houston and other authorities to release findings of investigations of the 2009 allegations related to Station 54. Today's federal lawsuit provides another opportunity to publicly exonerate the more than 40 firefighters that were polygraphed, gave sworn statements or handwriting samples in, or cooperated with investigations of HFD. We continue to believe the evidence – all of it – should be released immediately. "From the beginning of this controversy, Houston firefighters have wanted the perpetrator(s) of the incidents at Station 54 found and punished appropriately. We believe in – and have fought for – better working conditions for all Houston firefighters. To that end, dozens of firefighters cooperated in the various investigations of this incident, but unfounded criticism of Houston firefighters has continued for years. Today, as then, the firefighters exonerated in the investigation deserve to be recognized as such. Former Mayor Annise Parker rightly said in 2010 that Houston firefighters were 'unjustly under a cloud.' Eight years later, the cloud remains. “The time has come for authorities to release all of the evidence in this case. Without a proper conclusion, the unjust 'cloud' will undermine a basic tenet of our justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Anything short of public acknowledgement of the exonerated firefighters will only foster public misunderstanding of Houston firefighters. Houston firefighters deserve due process and a fair hearing of the facts. We hope this federal case finally sets the record straight on what actually happened at Station 54." 

The city of Houston released a statement Thursday: 

"The DOJ lawsuit stems from alleged events, some of which took place 10 years ago, and about which the federal government has long been aware. After a thorough investigation, the City could not substantiate the claims of the plaintiffs when they were made; nor has the City been able to resolve the claims asserted on a mutually agreeable basis. Accordingly, the City will defend itself. The City does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment."