Houston Fire Department Scorched by Allegations of Racial and Sexual Harassment

Two female Houston firefighters, Paula Keys and Jane Draycott, came forward on Thursday July, 9th with allegations of sexual and racial harassment at their workplace. Their claims have prompted a formal Federal Justice Department investigation and have the potential to bring down Houston’s fire chief.

The firefighters alleged that their peers (the majority of whom are white and male) have harassed them for years. According to the claimants’ attorney, perpetrators in the department turned off the water in the women’s showers and set off firecrackers in their bathroom. This already egregious and illegal harassment was child’s play compared with the latest, horrific incident, in which as-yet-unidentified perpetrators defaced and vandalized the women’s lockers. Someone scrawled the word “die” on firefighter Jane Draycott’s face and scrawled the word “dead” on a picture of her deceased teenage daughter. That this kind of sociopathic behavior could flourish could spell serious political problems for key leadership figures in the fire department.

In fact, the head of the Houston Black Firefighters Association excoriated the HFD for failing to provide “strong leadership” amidst the crisis. On the other hand, the head of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association has come out tentatively in support of the chief. Some in the regional media have noted parallels between this gender and race harassment case and the case of firefighter Frank Ricci of New Haven. In the Ricci case – which has recently become famous thanks to its association with President Obama’s Supreme Court justice nominee, Sonia Sotomayor — the plaintiffs alleged so-called “reverse” discrimination. In the Houston firefighters’ case, the matter involves more “traditional” discrimination against minorities and women. However this matter turns out, it will no doubt yield significant implications for racial and gender politics in the Houston region.

If you’ve been subjected to harassment, threats, or retaliation at the workplace, the law provides you with significant recourse. Explore your avenues to seek justice and compensation today by getting in touch with the attorneys here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP.