Kennewick firefighter-paramedic sues for alleged mistreatment

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 26, 2014 

A current Kennewick firefighter-paramedic claims she has suffered from discrimination, retaliation and a hostile workplace for eight years.

Andra Thompson of Kennewick is suing the city and several Kennewick Fire Department supervisors, claiming she's been unfairly passed over for promotion and that complaints about working conditions have been ignored.

Thompson, who was hired in 2004, alleges in court documents that she has been the target of offensive acts, behavior and comments because she's a woman starting about two years after she began working for Kennewick.

Thompson, who is one of just two female firefighters with the department, also has filed a second lawsuit claiming the city withheld records she believes would show a pattern of gender discrimination in the department.

Her claims of discrimination include being investigated for the length of her hair and being the subject of derogatory remarks about her job performance and about women.

When Thompson had a problem with other firefighters pulling open the curtain to the bunk room when she was changing clothes, she said in court documents she asked to use the front office's restroom because there was no women's restroom.

She alleges male firefighters then started using that restroom more frequently, not flushing the toilet and "simulated masturbation in that room," according to court documents.

Kennewick City Attorney Lisa Beaton said she could not talk about specific details because of the pending litigation. However, she said, "We deny every allegation in (the discrimination) complaint."

Attorney Shannon E. Phillips of Seattle's Summit Law Group is the city's main attorney on the case. "The city intends to vigorously defend against the claim," Beaton said.

Thompson's lawsuit names Kennewick Fire Chief Neil Hines, Deputy Fire Chief Marvin Leonard, and battalion chiefs Vince Beasley and Tod Kreutz, claiming they were involved in the decision making when she was allegedly passed over for promotion to fire captain six times.

Thompson, who has more than 12 years experience, maintains she was well qualified and held one of the top slots on the fire captain eligibility list, according to court documents.

She also claims various supervisors failed to appropriately address the complaints she made about her working conditions and did not give her the same mentoring opportunities for advancement that male firefighters were given.

She said almost all responsibilities other than emergency responses had been taken away from her by the beginning of last year. She said she was removed from committees and projects she had previously worked on.

No specific damage amount is listed in the lawsuits, but Thompson is asking for damages for lost wages, promotional losses, humiliation, fear and embarrassment.

She's also asking to be promoted to fire captain and wants to have discipline records in her personnel file removed that she claims were based on discrimination and retaliation.

Beaton said Thompson has been treated fairly and in compliance with state law, civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements.

Thompson made similar allegations in complaints to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Neither found her claims justified, said Beaton.

Labor & Industries' Occupational Safety and Health division said Thompson's safety complaint did not have merit, said department spokeswoman Debby Abe.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officials said by law they cannot confirm or deny discrimination investigations unless the commission files an action.

Beaton said the city received several records requests from Thompson but that the city did not withhold any records in violation of the law.

Thompson made several requests for records last year including emails and supervisory files, according to court documents. She alleges that emails she knows exist were not part of the documents she received and she challenges the city's exemption of some other records.

City officials said in court documents that Thompson agreed to narrow her request and that's why she did not get everything she expected. The city said it provided her with other records as part of a second installment she received last year.

Trials for the cases are scheduled for next year.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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