Federal government sues city of Houston over alleged sex discrimination at fire department

According to the lawsuit, male employees urinated on the walls, floors and sinks of the women’s bathroom and deactivated speakers in the women’s dormitory so female firefighters would be unable to respond to emergency calls.

Houston, TX Randall Pugh

Urine on the walls, scalding showers and even death threats scrawled on their possessions. These were the conditions female firefighters had to endure at a fire station in Houston, a new federal lawsuit alleges.

The federal government filed suit Wednesday against the city of Houston over allegations of rampant sex discrimination in Houston Fire Department's Station 54.

According to the lawsuit, men urinated all over the women's bathroom and dormitory, disconnected the cold water tap so that women would be scalded while showering and deactivated the speakers in the women’s dormitory so they would be unable to respond to emergency calls. The suit also claims female employees received death threats at work.

When women filed complaints with management, the fire department “did not take meaningful steps to stop the discrimination” and one woman was forced into early retirement, the lawsuit alleges.

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“No employee should be subjected to a hostile work environment based on their sex,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, the son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.  “We will aggressively protect employees who are victims of sex discrimination and retaliation and pursue employers who violate the law.”

Officials with the Houston Fire Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declined to comment on the suit Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit is the first the Department of Justice has filed as part of a new workplace sexual harassment initiative it announced Wednesday. The suit alleges that the city of Houston violated Title VII, a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.