U.S. sues Houston for discrimination against female firefighters

U.S. sues Houston for discrimination against female firefighters
U.S. sues Houston for discrimination against female firefighters

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday that it had sued Houston over accusations that two female firefighters were subjected to sexual harassment including male co-workers urinating in their dormitory and writing sexist messages on walls.

"(The) hostile work environment included males urinating on the walls, floors and sinks of the women’s bathroom and dormitory, disconnecting the cold water 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," the Justice Department said in a statement.

Officials from the city of Houston and its fire department were not immediately available to comment.

The accusations made by Jane Draycott and Paula Keyes came to light about nine years ago, but the Justice Department said the lawsuit was the first under its new initiative to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Texas, seeks to require the Houston Fire Department to develop and implement policies to prevent sex discrimination and for the two women to receive monetary relief "to compensate them for the damages they sustained as a result of the alleged discrimination."

The head of the Houston Fire Department stepped down in January 2010, a few months after the accusations were made public.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011 sided with the women in determining that they were subjected to a hostile work environment based on gender. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the charges to the Justice Department.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)

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