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Black Women Held to ‘Harsher Standards’: Four Black Women Firefighters Sue District of Columbia For $10 Million In Race and Gender Bias Lawsuit

Four Black female firefighters have filed a joint lawsuit against the District of Columbia, chasing race and gender bias. They claim the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (DC FEMS) holds “African-American women to harsher standards” and they endured on-thej-ob discrimination, among other issues.

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The lawsuit, filed on Aug. 1 by Jadonna Sanders, Shalonda Smith, Takeva Thomas, and Bolatito Ajose, is seeking $10 million, WTOP reported.

Black Women Treated Harsher

The four firefighters, who all work at DC FEMS, charge that they were given harsher discipline than their white co-workers.

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,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement.

Complaints Went Unheard

The women also claim their department was continually brushing over and “marginalizing” their complaints while they “observed their non-Black colleagues raise concerns and be responded to with haste and alacrity, or at a minimum be responded to in a timely fashion,” the lawsuit states.

“These four women have been long-standing, successful firefighters, but their tenure at D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services has been fraught with disparate treatment… there’s a systemic, historic ignoring of complaints of Black women at DC FEMS,” attorney Pam Keith told WTOP. “They complain about being harassed or bullied; they get ignored; they complain about disparate or unfair treatment, they get ignored.”

Gender Bias Made Department a ‘Boy’s Club’

There was also gender bias, the suit alleges. According to Keith in a statement, 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.”

All four women are veterans in the field. Their time of service at DCFEMS ranged from 10 to 21 years. Sanders and Ajose were hired in 2001. Smith joined in 2006, and Thomas joined DCFEMS in 2012,  The Washington Post. reported.

All four women serve in the department’s fire prevention division. Their job responsibilities include fire inspections, fire investigations, and fire-safety education programs for the public. 

The women say they were denied overtime opportunities, which is preferably given to those who acquired the fewest overtime hours. Instead, a lieutenant gave “overtime opportunities to his preferred employees.”

The estimated total pay for a firefighter at Washington, DC Fire & EMS Department is $49,997 per year, according to Glass Door.

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