The nation's enforcement agency over job-site discrimination has issued a report confirming a "hostile work environment" within the Houston Fire Department, Local 2 Investigates reported Monday.
The report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that HFD managers were aware that firefighter Jane Draycott was being subjected to hostility on the job because of her gender, but "failed to take corrective action."
The report was leaked to various media outlets on Monday, and its contents were confirmed by lawyers and city officials involved in the case.
Draycott and another female firefighter blew the whistle on racist and sexist graffiti that was painted in their locker room at airport Fire Station No. 54 in July 2009. The pair complained that they were subjected to pressure and hatred from male firefighters at the station.
They complained to the city and to the EEOC, and the city has now received the findings of the EEOC investigation. The letter singled out former Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie, saying he made the discrimination worse by encouraging and allowing male firefighters to "disparage and humiliate" Draycott when she tried to return to work after making the allegations.
Mayor Annise Parker publicly criticized Boriskie's handling of her return to work, prompting his abrupt departure from the fire department's top job.
The new findings from the EEOC could push the city toward a monetary settlement with Draycott.
City Attorney David Feldman issued a written statement. "We have reviewed the EEOC determination and without commenting on the merits, we believe that it is in the best interest of all parties for the city to seek resolution of this matter. We are endeavoring to do that at this time."
The city of Houston's Office of Inspector General conducted two investigations, but was unable to find anyone to face criminal charges in the case.
Parker publicly faulted the process of those investigations when she first took office. She even mentioned her frustration with the OIG when she restructured that office and removed most police officers from their OIG duties.
Inspector General investigations are now mostly led by employees in the city attorney's office, as opposed to police officers.
The Houston Professional Firefighters Association union issued a statement criticizing the EEOC findings.
Union president Jeff Caynon told the Michael Berry radio show, "How the EEOC conducted an investigation without interviewing or talking to any of the other firefighters involved is baffling."
The union's written statement, in its entirety, reads: "The nearly 4,000 members of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association agree that the HFD workplace must be fair and free from discrimination and harassment. Houston firefighters want the perpetrator(s) of the July 2009 graffiti incident at Station 54 found and appropriately punished, as we have since the allegations were made.
"We hope the EEOC report moves this controversy closer to resolution, but it appears to be an investigation that was limited in scope. Our understanding is that few, if any, of the 39 firefighters who were polygraphed, gave sworn statements or handwriting samples, or cooperated with the city's investigations were contacted by the EEOC. We do not view this report as the defining assessment of what happened at Station 54.
"More troubling is the city's continuing refusal to release findings of its administrative investigation of Station 54. Our firefighters cooperated with the city investigations and with one by a Texas law firm retained by the city. As the investigation proceeded, Houston Mayor Annise Parker rightly said Houston firefighters are 'unjustly under a cloud.'
"We again urge Mayor Parker to order the city attorney to release the findings of the civil investigation of Station 54. The firefighters exonerated in the investigation deserve to be recognized as such."
Draycott's lawyer, Joe Ahmad, declined to comment on the report and said he had nothing to do with leaking it to the media.
He had filed a lawsuit against the city on Draycott's behalf, but then withdrew that suit.
The EEOC declined to comment or make its findings available.
City Council Member Michael Sullivan said the report merely furthers the agenda of lawyers and other critics who have been going after the Houston Fire Department in this case.
He said, "I don't think it tarnishes the reputation of the fire department at all. I will tell you that I feel sorry for the fire department because, as hard working as they are, it does seem like the complaints continue to come, but they keep coming from the same direction."
Draycott returned to work, but then left again on leave after being arrested on a shoplifting charge that put her name in the spotlight once again.
That shoplifting case has yet to go to trial.
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