Ex-Deputy Chief Sues Topeka, Firefighters’ Union

TOPEKA, KS &#8211 Kathy Petty, a former Topeka deputy fire chief, is seeking more than $1.3 million in a federal discrimination lawsuit filed last month against the city and Local 83 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The suit alleges the city committed gender discrimination and retaliation, while Local 83 supported actions the city took to terminate Petty and hire less qualified men for vacant fire department jobs she subsequently sought.

The suit seeks damages for lost wages, lost benefits, future lost wages and benefits, mental anguish, costs and legal fees.

The Topeka Capital-Journal learned this week of the suit, which Overland Park-based attorney Joseph R. Colantuono filed June 18 on Petty’s behalf.

When asked Monday about the city’s stance regarding the suit, city spokesman David Bevens said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The Capital-Journal tried unsuccessfully to reach Randy Phillips, president of Local 83.

Petty, 50, was hired as one of the Topeka Fire Department’s first four female firefighters in 1985, then became its first female training officer in 1995, its first female member of management in January 2004 and its first female deputy chief in September 2004.

Petty subsequently became a target of public criticism from IAFF Local 83, which represents rank-and-file Topeka firefighters in collective bargaining.

The city later eliminated Petty’s job along with several other positions in what it said was a budget-driven work force reduction.

According to Petty’s lawsuit petition:

  • She was involuntarily moved in September 2009 from her deputy chief’s job to a management analyst’s position within the city manager’s office that carried substantially less authority, with her pre-transfer duties being reassigned to male employees.
  • Petty was terminated in February 2010, with a city separation form giving the reason as “layoff/budget.”
  • Because Petty had been laid off, she was entitled under the city personnel code to have her name entered on a re-employment eligibility list and to be given first consideration when a vacancy occurred in the same or similar position to the one she last held.
  • Petty applied for openings for deputy fire chief in October 2010, training officer in July 2011 and deputy fire chief last November. Each time, the city didn’t interview her and hired a less experienced man.

Petty’s lawsuit petition contends the city’s actions “were motivated by the city’s and Local 83’s preference for male employees in the TFD.”

It says, “The city only considered, and Local 83 only supported, current TFD employees because that would ensure that a male would be hired and that Petty would not be re-hired.”

Petty filed a claim seeking $1,310,918 last September with the city. Council members voted 7-0 on Nov. 1 to approve a consent agenda that included denying the claim.

The first four counts of the six-count lawsuit filed last month contend the city and Local 83 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kansas Act Against Discrimination.

The fifth count accuses Local 83 of a separate Kansas Act Against Discrimination violation, while the sixth accuses the city of violating Section 1983 of U.S. employment discrimination law.

The lawsuit petition said Petty was issued “right to sue” letters by the U.S. Department of Justice and Kansas Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The petition contends Local 83 officials “dominated and controlled” the city’s management in decisions regarding fire department personnel, including sending the city manager and fire department employees emails listing employees who would be allowed to apply for promotions and to fill vacancies. Only male employees were named in the emails, the petition said.

From The Capital-Journal

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