Two Black women who worked for the Denver Fire Department are suing the city for alleged discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
”The severe and pervasive hostile work environment to which DFD subjected Plaintiffs because of their race and sex made it all but impossible for them to succeed; DFD continually treated Plaintiffs differently and worse than their male and/or Caucasian colleagues and hyper-scrutinized their performance,” reads the complaint, filed on Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court.
Da Lesha Allen joined Denver’s fire department in 2019 and Charmaine Cassie began in 2018. Allen reported that during her training, she received write ups while the male or white trainees had no repercussions for similar conduct. She claimed that multiple superiors commented on her hair and another employee suggested she “should just focus on being a mom.”
Believing she was “set up to fail,” Allen complained about her discrimination, which the city determined to be unfounded. She no longer works with the department.
“Apparently, Denver does not have a problem with blatantly racist, sexist, racially stereotyping comments such as those made to Ms. Allen,” the federal complaint reads. “Denver’s ratification of and explicit support for these comments demonstrates the large extent to which racism and sexism is tolerated and fostered by DFD.”
Cassie reportedly experienced disparate treatment while in training also, as well as racist comments from coworkers and superiors. According to the complaint, one captain allegedly told her to “keep her head down and act like a slave,” while another employee said she “look[ed] like a human” after straightening her hair.
Firefighting is an overwhelmingly male profession, with only 4% of firefighters nationwide being women. That compares to 14% in law enforcement and the military. The lawsuit noted that in Denver, approximately 5% of the department’s employees are women, and a similar percentage is Black.
Similar allegations against the department have surfaced in recent years. The Denver Post reports that the city paid out $75,000 to another female firefighter who sued over sexual harassment and discrimination in 2015, and four years later paid nearly $1 million to settle a separate case. The fire department declined to comment on this week's lawsuit to The Post.