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Two retired Topeka Fire Department captains file lawsuits alleging discrimination


Two retired Topeka Fire Department captains file lawsuits alleging discrimination

Sep 19, 2023 | 10:57 am ET
By Tim Carpenter
Two retired Topeka Fire Department captains file lawsuits alleging discrimination
Two former captains with the Topeka Fire Department filed discrimination lawsuits in the past week against the City of Topeka alleging racial and gender inequities. (Kansas Reflector screen capture of U.S. District Court lawsuit)

TOPEKA — A retired Topeka Fire Department captain filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging employment discrimination and workplace retaliation after denied promotions and job assignments during a nearly 30-year career that came to an end following a cancer diagnosis.

It was the second discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by a former TFD captain in the past week.

Brently Dorsey, who is Black and left the department in 2022, alleged Monday in a court filing that Topeka’s fire department subjected him to different terms of employment because of his race. He asserted in the lawsuit that he was denied reasonable accommodation at work for his medical condition.

“During my time at the fire department, I have witnessed a pattern of AfricanAmerican employees being treated less favorably than Caucasian employees and being promoted less often than Caucasian employees,” Dorsey said in court documents.

Dorsey began work with the department in 1994 and held rank of captain from 2015 to 2022. He contends the department’s actions led to his early retirement.

He said evidence of discrimination included the department’s handling of his applications for fire marshal, fire inspector and chief of administration. He alleged white employees with less seniority or less supervisory experience were hired to those jobs. He was prohibited from serving as a fill-in for battalion chiefs due to an assertion he didn’t meet requirements for that duty, but allegedly the department allowed a white employee similarly qualified to perform that function.

In the lawsuit, Dorsey’s attorney asserted he was denied promotions as part of a strategy to “force him out of the fire department due to his race and/or his medical condition.”

Dorsey initiated legal action against the city in June by filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On Sept. 14, former Topeka Fire Department Captain Barbara Hack filed a separate federal lawsuit against the fire department claiming she was passed over for promotions due to her gender. She left the department after 24 years of service.

In 2022, Hack’s lawsuit said, she applied to posts of chief of administration and fire marshal. Her suit said she met qualifications of those jobs, but the marshal position was given to a white man with less experience. The filing said the administrative job was given to a white man who hadn’t applied for the position.

Court documents submitted as part of her suit alleged the Topeka Fire Department was regarded as a “good ole boys club” and women in the department were aware they shouldn’t expect to be promoted above the level of a shift commander. She further claimed she was the victim of sexual harassment by a male colleague in the Topeka Fire Department.

Gretchen Spiker, the City of Topeka’s communications director, said in response to the Hack lawsuit the city “takes claims of this nature very seriously and has full faith that the justice system will resolve this issue.”

“Because the matter involves potential pending litigation, and in order to not prejudice the process, the city has no further comment,” Spiker said.

She said the City of Topeka hadn’t been served the Dorsey lawsuit, but were aware of discrimination and retaliation allegations made by the former captain.

Meanwhile, Topeka City Council voted unanimously in June to settle for $200,000 a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by Ron Rutherford, a Black battalion chief in the city’s fire department.