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UPDATE: Houston Disputing Sex Bias Allegations At Fire Department In Federal Lawsuit

Federal officials have sued the city of Houston after two female firefighters accused their male colleagues of harassing them because of their sex

Houston officials are disputing allegations in a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the city’s fire department of discriminating and harassing two female firefighters because of their gender.

Mayor Sylvester Turner‘s office said in a statement the city will defend itself, that it doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment and that city investigators looked into the women’s complaints and couldn’t substantiate some of the incidents that allegedly took place 10 years ago.

In the lawsuit announced Wednesday, the Justice Department said the two women at a station near Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport told of male firefighters urinating on the walls and sinks of the women’s bathroom and dormitory, scrawling vulgar slurs on their belongings, tampering with water in showers and disconnecting speakers in the women’s dorm so they wouldn’t respond to calls.

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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.

The city of Houston released a statement about the lawsuit:

“The DOJ lawsuit stems from alleged events, some of which took place 10 years ago, and about which the federal government has long been aware. After a thorough investigation, the City could not substantiate the claims of the plaintiffs when they were made; nor has the City been able to resolve the claims asserted on a mutually agreeable basis. Accordingly, the City will defend itself. The City does not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment.”

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.

“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.

The women said the troubles happened at Houston Fire Department Station 54, near Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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