Another Captain Sues Topeka For Discrimination

Another Topeka, Kansas fire captain has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit over not being promoted. Captain Barbara Hack claims that she was passed over for the same promotions that Captain Brently Dorsey filed suit over. We covered Captain Dorsey’s suit yesterday.

Captain Hack’s suit predates Captain Dorsey’s suit by several days, and was filed in the same court, the US District Court for the District of Kansas. The suit alleges a single count of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • In March 2022, the Topeka Fire Department posted openings for four chief level positions.
  • The positions open included the Chief of Administration, Fire Marshal, Chief of Operations, and Chief of EMS/Training.
  • According to the job posting, both the Chief of Administration and Fire Marshal positions required that “Applicants must hold the minimum rank of Captain for a minimum of two (2) years as well as twenty (20) years of firefighting experience.”
  • Plaintiff applied for both the Chief of Administration and Fire Marshal positions.
  • Plaintiff met the minimum qualifications of both the Fire Marshal and Chief of Administration positions. At the time Plaintiff applied for both positions, she possessed 24 years of firefighting experience with the Topeka Fire Department and had been a Captain for more than two years.
  • In April 2022, Plaintiff interviewed for both the Chief of Administration and Fire Marshal positions.
  • After interviewing, Plaintiff was notified she would not receive an offer for either position.
  • Plaintiff later learned that Alan Stahl, a white male, was offered the position of Fire Marshal.
  • Stahl did not meet the minimum requirements for the position of Fire Marshal as he was not a Captain.
  • Plaintiff was more qualified than Stahl for the position of Fire Marshal, because she met the requirement of having served as a Captain for a minimum of two years, she has more education, she has supervisory experience that Stahl did not have, and she had served on the ranks for a longer period of time; whereas, upon information and belief, Stahl had never been an officer, had never supervised other people, spent very little time “riding the trucks,” and was not able to maintain his certifications to remain in inspections and investigations.
  • In addition, Stahl has a reputation for being hot-headed and, in fact, became overtly angry when he found out the Fire Marshal position required a minimum of two years’ experience as a Captain, which he did not have when he applied for the position.
  • Plaintiff further learned that Chuck Gatewood, a white male, was offered the position of Chief of Administration. Gatewood had not even applied for the position of Chief of Administration.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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