San Jose

Two Women Firefighters Sue San Jose for Gender Discrimination

Two San Jose firefighters are suing the city for gender discrimination, retaliation and harassment saying they were passed up for promotions because they are women.

Battalion Chief Patricia Tapia and retired Battalion Chief Debra Ward say they are fighting to change the culture of exclusion at the fire department.

"This fight is for every little girl that wants to be a firefighter," Tapia said.

Tapia said she’s applied for 10 promotions in the past five years and has been denied each time.

"People have been selected with less experience, less training," she said.

Two former fire chiefs also have been named in the lawsuit. Ward and Tapia are seeking wage compensation and pension benefits that would have been provided if they had been promoted.

The suit is not the first for the women. In 2012, they settled a discrimination lawsuit. But, they said, after that case concluded, the harassment from leaders in the department got even worse.

"No matter how high I come out on the test, I come out number one, they still find some reason not to promote," Ward said.

City Attorney Rick Doyle said he's unable to comment on pending litigation, but in January, he said San Jose has a zero-tolerance policy for gender discrimination.

"When you hear those allegations, it stings because we take this seriously," Doyle said. "In this case, we don’t think it exists, and we’ll defend this case."

In the past four years, the fire department has hired four women among more than 100 candidates.

The lawsuit is headed for trial and is expected to last about a week or so.

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