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Women sue Denver over alleged fire department discrimination

October 2, 2020 GMT

DENVER (AP) — Two Black women have sued the city of Denver over allegations that members of the city’s fire department systematically discriminated against them because of their gender and race.

Da Lesha Allen and Charmaine Cassie filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming they faced tougher standards and stricter scrutiny than their white, male colleagues, The Denver Post reports.

The lawsuit also alleges colleagues and supervisors made racist comments about their hair and bodies and applied racist stereotypes to the women after they joined the fire department. Allen joined the department in 2019 and Cassie joined in 2018.

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The lawsuit says Allen was fired after she filed a discrimination complaint and a city internal affairs investigation determined her complaints were “unfounded.” Cassie is still a firefighter with the department.

A fire captain told Cassie she would struggle to complete the department’s training program because of its culture and said she should “keep her head down and act like a slave” in order to graduate from the training, the lawsuit says.

A lieutenant commented several times on Cassie’s body, including a declaration she had a “big butt,” the lawsuit alleges.

Another high-ranking firefighter told Allen she would need to figure out how to get her hair into her helmet, even though he knew “you people like to put all them things in your hair,” the lawsuit says.

Allen did not have anything in her hair at the time, the lawsuit says.

The majority of fire department employees are white men. Between 2016 and 2019, an average 5% of employees were Black, about 5% were women and less than 1% of employees were Black women, the lawsuit said.

“The fire department has a huge history of being the good old boys network, and mostly a white good old boys network,” said David Lane, an attorney for the women. “So women firefighters get washed out of the academy on a routine basis, and these women are standing up to it.”

A city spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.