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EEOC: Houston Fire Dept. Created Hostile Work Environment

According to a report issued by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission released Monday, a fire department in Houston subjected a female firefighter to a hostile work environment because of her gender. The fire department was also found to have retaliated against the woman.

The report notes that the woman had complained of workplace conditions in 2009. After the incident, she and another firefighter found derogatory racial and sexual remarks written on their lockers. The vandals have yet to be found.

The EEOC report noted that, given all the evidence, there was reasonable cause to believe the woman had been subjected to a hostile work environment because of her gender and was retaliated against for engaging in a protected activity. The protected activity in this case was filing a complaint concerning workplace conditions, which is part of an employee's whistleblower rights.

The investigation had reportedly shown that male coworkers were responsible for the harassment and that department supervisors made the harassment possible. The woman also had reportedly complained of salary disparity, but no finding has been issued on that allegation.

The fire department is denying the accusations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. According to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, the EEOC failed to interview an adequate number of firefighters as part of its investigation. A spokesman of the agency said, "We do not view this report as the defining assessment of what happened at Station 54."

The Equal Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing laws against workplace discrimination. Victims of discriminatory employment actions should report the discrimination as soon as possible. Each state sets its own time frame within which such actions must be reported. The EEOC finds that discrimination occurs in less than 10 percent claims filed.

The city of Houston is currently attempted to resolve the claims with the woman, who is still on paid leave. The city is also currently investigating a class claim against the fire department involving claims of mistreating women.

Source: myfoxhouston.com, "EEOC HFD Report May Equal Big Bucks for Draycott," Damali Keith, 19 Jan 2011.

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