ST. PAUL (AP) -- Two women have filed a federal lawsuit against the St. Paul Fire Department and city officials on claims they conspired to make them fail firefighting training.
Kathleen O'Connor and Julie Tossey filed a 13-count lawsuit Wednesday on allegations of sex discrimination, age discrimination and conspiracy. It also accuses the department of deliberately sabotaging its own affirmative action goals.
O'Connor, 49, and Tossey, 42, both fire dispatchers, were offered spots in the firefighter recruit class that began training last year. They were terminated Nov. 21, about halfway through the 12-week academy.
According to the 28-page lawsuit, the woman said instructors intimidated them, forced them to take tests with broken equipment and refused to give guidance that was provided to other recruits.
"They just don't want women in the fire department there," said Daniel Boivin, an attorney for the two plaintiffs. "It's still a good old boys club."
Fire Department spokesman Ted Vanderbeek said recruits were all held to the same standards and O'Connor and Tossey failed to meet them.
"They weren't fired or anything," he said. "The big point here is they failed probation during recruit training."
Two women and 30 men graduated from the firefighter academy in January. The department has 17 women among its 370 firefighters.
Named in the lawsuit are: the city of St. Paul, Fire Chief Tim Fuller, Assistant Fire Chief and former union President Gary Olding, Mayor Norm Coleman and four other fire and human resources officials.
In 1988, the Fire Department was sued by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights on claims it discriminated against women in its physical skills exam. The lawsuit was settled by a consent decree that extended the minimum amount of time to complete the test and gave the fire chief more discretion in picking candidates.
In 1999, seven women who failed the physical test filed a complaint about confusing test instructions with the Department of Human Rights. The city later offered a second opportunity to take the test. Last year, the Department of Human Rights determined there was "probable cause" that St. Paul's physical tests for firefighter candidates discriminated against women.
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