A group of Black women firefighters filed a race and gender discrimination lawsuit against D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services in U.S. District Court Monday.
The firefighters, Jadonna Sanders, Shalonda Smith, Takeva Thomas and Bolatito Ajose, accuse D.C. FEMS of being “a hostile work environment for Black women firefighters” and “maintaining a custom, pattern and practice of disfavoring Black women firefighters.” The group seeks $10 million, $2.5 million each, in damages due to alleged discriminatory practices that limited their pay and promotions.
“This case is about systemic characteristics of D.C. FEMS that turn it into a “boys club” in which Black women are tolerated, but not embraced or treated as equals, and in which Black women always have to beg, scrape and fight just to be treated fairly,” civil rights attorney Pam Keith, who is representing the women, told WJLA.
Keith also filed similar lawsuits on behalf of a group of Black female police officers alleging discrimination on the basis of race and gender against the Metropolitan Police Department last December.
The four women are all certified paramedics and former or current members of FEMS’ Fire Prevention Division and have each been with the department from 10 to 21 years.
“I haven’t seen the lawsuit and will not comment on any pending litigation, but what I can say is the department has a history – and a recent history, very positive – of hiring women, promoting women,” FEMS Chief John Donnelly Sr. told WJLA.
Ajose said throughout her long experience working for FEMS, she faced consistent discrimination on the basis of race and gender.
“It’s been 21 years, and there’s always something that is unfair as it relates to just being a woman or a brown woman in fire services,” Ajose said to local news station WTOP.