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Black female firefighters file lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination

The Hill logo The Hill 10/1/2020 Justine Coleman
a close up of a wooden table: Black female firefighters file lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination © iStock Black female firefighters file lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination

Two Black female firefighters filed a federal lawsuit against the Denver Fire Department alleging they experienced racial and gender discrimination while working there.

Da Lesha Allen and Charmaine Cassie claimed in their lawsuit that they were held to a higher standard and endured more criticism than their white male colleagues, the Denver Post reported.

The women allege that colleagues and supervisors in the department made racist comments about their hair and bodies, in addition to using racial stereotypes.

The lawsuit obtained by the Post describes incidents such as when a fire captain told Cassie that she would struggle with the training program because of the department culture, advising her to "keep her head down and act like a slave." Cassie also alleges that a lieutenant made remarks about her body, specifically her "big butt."

Allen, who was hired in 2019, accuses the department of firing her for filing a discrimination complaint. Her complaints were reviewed by city internal affairs officials who ruled her claims "unfounded," according to the lawsuit.

Cassie has worked with the department since 2018.

Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the Denver City Attorney's Office, told The Hill in a statement that the city "has not been served with the lawsuit, therefore it would be improper for us to comment at this time."

David Lane, an attorney for the women, said the Denver Fire Department "has a huge history" of being "mostly a white good old boys network," according to the Post.

"So women firefighters get washed out of the academy on a routine basis, and these women are standing up to it," he added.

The lawsuit cites data that the fire department's employees on average were 5 percent Black, 5 percent women and less than 1 percent Black women between 2016 and 2019.

The Denver Fire Department has faced gender discrimination allegations in the past, with the city paying almost $1 million to a former firefighter who said she was fired for filing two gender discrimination claims.

-Updated Friday at 6:57 p.m.

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