Houston City Council Settles Fire Department Discrimination Lawsuit, Agrees to Federal Consent Decree
October 14, 2020
HOUSTON – The Houston City Council has settled an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by Houston firefighter Jane Draycott in a case that started in 2009 when racist and sexist slurs were scrawled across her belongings, including on a photo of her dead daughter.
Ms. Draycott received $275,000 from the city as part of the settlement, along with a court-approved federal consent decree in which the city promises to create sexual harassment and retaliation training for ranking Houston Fire Department personnel and supervisors.
“This was a long struggle but worth it for Jane because she obtained relief through the courts that will help other women going forward,” said Joe Ahmad, co-founding partner of AZA and Ms. Draycott’s lawyer. “She stood on the side of truth and justice in this case.”
As part of the agreement, the city must provide training on its harassment policies, prohibitions, obligations for ranking firefighters and how to investigate complaints. The federal government must approve the training materials.
The purpose of the decree is to “provide general, non-monetary remedies that ensure that the City does not discriminate against any HFD employee on the basis of sex or retaliate against an employee in violation of Title VII.”
The harassment that Ms. Draycott and an African American female firefighter suffered included threatening sexist and racist graffiti in the female dorm, urine sprayed on female dorm toilets, and a male firefighter grabbing a female firefighter and rubbing up against her and climbing into her bed. When Ms. Draycott tried to return to work after reporting the incident, she was mistreated with silence and abuse. The city of Houston denied there were race and gender discrimination problems.
“I want to be treated like everybody else,” she said on her third attempt to return to work in 2010. “I want to be able to go to work and not be harassed, not be retaliated against.”
Mr. Ahmad said this long fight was hard but worthwhile. “The way the male firefighters treated these brave women was abhorrent. The city dragging its feet a decade on this was shameful. But thanks to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and the federal government intervening and getting this solid consent decree, justice has been done here,” Mr. Ahmad said.
The case is United States of America v. City of Houston and Jane Draycott v City of Houston in the Southern District of Texas U.S. District Court case no. 4:18-cv-00644.
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, healthcare, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2020 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for eight years running; was named 2019 Litigation Department of the Year by Texas Lawyer; and was previously dubbed by Law360 a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 500.