Female firefighter sues Topeka Fire Dept. alleging gender discrimination

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 2:10 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A Topeka Fire Dept. captain says she was passed over for promotions because she is a woman, and was called a derogatory expletive by a male co-worker.

Barbara Hack makes the allegations in a federal lawsuit against TFD, claiming violations of her rights under the Civil Rights Act. The civil lawsuit was filed Thursday, Sept. 14 in U.S. District Court. It names the City of Topeka as the defendant.

According to the complaint, Hack spent 24 years with TFD. In March 2022, she applied for the Chief of Administration and Fire Marshal positions. Her lawsuit states both listed qualifications including a minimum two years at the rank of captain and 20 years of firefighting experience.

Hack’s lawsuit states she met both of those qualifications. However, the Fire Marshal position was given to a white man who was not a captain, had less education, and lacked any supervisory experience. In addition, the lawsuit claims he previously was unable to maintain certifications to remain in inspections and investigations.

In addition, the lawsuit states the Chief of Administration position was given to a white man who had not applied for it. She says she was then forced out of the department on April 1, 2023.

Hack’s lawsuit contends she was denied these two most recent examples and other promotions over the years because of her gender. She filed a grievance in 2015 when she was passed over for the Public Education Officer position.

Hack’s lawsuit also contends she and other women have been sexually harassed by male co-workers; that she was forced to share locker rooms with men at the department; and that TFD has a reputation as a “good ole boys club” which is perpetuated by Chief Randall Phillips.

The lawsuit is for a single single count of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII, saying TFD “has engaged in a pattern and practice of gender discrimination.” Hack alleges the actions cost her past and future wages and benefits, and emotional distress. The lawsuit does not state a specific amount, but says Hack will ask for economic damages, including back pay, lost benefits, punitive damages and compensatory relief.

City of Topeka spokesperson Gretchen Spiker said city officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit, but are aware of the allegations.

“The city takes claims of this nature very seriously and has full faith that the justice system will resolve this issue,” Spiker told 13 NEWS. “Because the matter involves potential pending litigation, and in order to not prejudice the process, the city has no further comment.”

Topeka Fire is not the only city department facing gender discrimination allegations. Three high-ranking officers filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Topeka Police Dept. and Chief Bryan Wheeles in January 2023, alleging gender discrimination.

Captains Colleen Stuart and Jana Harden and Lt. Jennifer Cross claim they were passed over for promotions to deputy chief and major, despite having more experience and higher education than the men who received those jobs. Harden has since been promoted to Major, while Cross was named a Captain. The lawsuit remains in discovery with one round of mediation complete.