Topeka Deputy Chief Seeks $1.3 Million for Sex Discrimination

A deputy chief who was laid off in 2010 and filed a $1.3 million claim with the city of Topeka last year alleging sex discrimination, has moved her allegations forward by filing suit in Federal court against both the city and IAFF Local 83, Topeka Firefighters.

Kathy Petty was one of Topeka’s first female firefighters, and the first to reach the rank of deputy chief. She had been in the cross-hairs of the union, with 86% of the rank and file having expressed their dissatisfaction with her performance in a 2006 poll.

Her position was eliminated in February, 2010. The city claims the position was eliminated to save money, but Chief Petty disputes that fact. She also claims she was fully qualified for three openings (deputy chief in October 2010, training officer in July 2011 and deputy chief in November 2011) and despite being on the recall list she was passed over.

The suit seeks punitive damages against Local 83 and alleges that the “decision to not re-hire and to not consider her requests for re-employment were retaliatory for Petty’s Charges alleging sex discrimination, and were motivated by the City’s and Local 83’s preference for male employees in the TFD.”

The complaint includes the following allegations:

  • At all times pertinent hereto Local 83 dominated and controlled the City’s Human Resources Department and the City’s management in decisions regarding personnel within the City’s Fire Department
  • Local 83 and the TFD are now, and have always been, dominated and controlled by males.
  • Upon Petty’s promotion to Deputy Chief, some firefighters began to treat her negatively, including a male who for the purposes of this First Amended Complaint will be identified solely as “TC”.
  • Petty was treated differently because she “was a female and was ultimately [TC’s] boss and that did not sit well with him.”
  • In or about the summer of 2008, the word “SLUT” was written in large letters in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Petty’s house.
  • In or about the summer of 2008, Sergeant Tom Glor with the City’s Police Department called Petty and informed her that someone on Petty’s street was keeping track of her and monitoring her arrivals and departures from her home.
  • Petty believed the person monitoring her behavior was TC, and Sergeant Glor confirmed Petty’s belief.
  • TC monitored Petty in an effort to uncover behavior that would result in Petty’s termination because he did not want to report to a female.
  • Petty believes Local 83 supported these efforts by TC, and similar efforts by others, because Plaintiff was female.
  • On one occasion, TC called council members and Chief Giles to report that Petty was off duty and not on vacation leave time.
  • Shortly after Petty’s termination, she went to Local 83 for assistance in pursing her wrongful termination.
  • Local 83 initially voted to support Petty but later tabled the motion and asked Petty to come before the union for a question and answer session.
  • On May 20, 2010, three weeks after the question and answer session, Petty received a letter from Local 83’s attorney stating that the union voted not to support Petty.
  • Local 83’s decision to not support Petty was a departure from its historic position of supporting male members.
  • Local 83’s decisions were based on Petty’s gender and were made in an effort to aid, abet, incite, compel and/or coerce the City’s discrimination and retaliation.
  • Throughout Petty’s employment with the TFD, she had been told numerous times that it was “too bad” she was not male.

Here is a copy of the complaint. Petty v Topeka

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

Check Also

Florida Firefighter Alleges Retaliatory Termination and Whistleblower Violation

A Florida firefighter who claims he was fired after reporting the misuse of COVID related funds, has filed suit alleging retaliation and whistleblower violations. Kevin Nelmes filed suit against the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District claiming that he was wrongfully terminated earlier this year.

Fired Arizona Firefighter Claims Sexual Harassment and Disability Discrimination

A probationary firefighter who claims he was sexually harassed and denied an accommodation for his psychological conditions has filed suit alleging sexual harassment and disability discrimination. Johnathan Schaupp filed suit today in US District Court against the City of Casa Grande Fire Department