On Monday, three female fire dispatchers working for the Jefferson Parish East Bank Consolidated Fire Protection Bureau filed suit claiming an ongoing practice of gender discrimination and retaliation at the Jefferson Parish Fire Protection Bureau’s Emergency Communications Division.
The three women have a combined fifty-three years of employment at the Bureau. According to the complaint filed in New Orleans federal court, Communications Supervisor Robert Funk denied female employees at the Bureau training and equipment that was provided to their male counterparts. This discriminatory behavior hurt female employees’ chances of being promoted, in addition to resulting in a Fire Communications division staffed with personnel who may not have the correct training or access to the necessary equipment to provide critical, life-saving assistance to firefighters and the general public.
In addition, the complaint states that Funk “repeatedly pursued inappropriate relationships with subordinates during work hours” for several years. Witnesses have seen Funk take female dispatchers off work premises during their shifts, leaving the Emergency Communications Division (aka “Fire Alarm”) understaffed. On one such occasion, a four-alarm fire occurred, during which Funk ignored attempts to reach him. Women who rejected Funk’s advances or filed complaints were subjected to retaliation that included hostile, intimidating language, misogynistic and racial slurs, and selectively punitive enforcement Bureau policies on mandatory overtime and emergency/sick leave.
The Plaintiffs state that they have reported the discrimination to Bureau leadership over two years ago and that they were retaliated against and subjected to unfair disciplinary proceedings, as well as threatened with the loss of their civil service protections. They hope that this lawsuit will help correct the discriminatory attitudes and glass ceilings faced by female employees at the Bureau as well as protecting the health and safety of Jefferson Parish first responders and the public.
“Sex discrimination remains a persistent problem in workplaces across Louisiana,” said Natalie Mitchell of Sternberg, Naccari & White, LLC, the firm representing the women. “This case is particularly egregious because it presents the possibility of a very real risk to public safety. Employers have a responsibility under the law to create a work environment that is free of discrimination. When employers discover such unlawful practices, they should root it out immediately, not retaliate.”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist and editor currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Big Easy Magazine. Her work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_