Late into her shift one night, Hannah*, a new paramedic, went into a medic room at a local hospital to grab new sheets and supplies. It was a cool spring night in Chicago, and her boss was sitting in the room working on his laptop.
Then, he allegedly attacked her. The ambulance commander put the computer down, grabbed Hannah with both hands, and forcibly kissed her with an open mouth, according to a federal lawsuit.
As Hannah said “no” and backed away, her boss kissed her and licked her face, according to the complaint. Hannah put her hands on his chest to push him off.
“Come on, you know you want it,” he allegedly said.
Despite her resistance, the ambulance commander grabbed Hannah’s wrist and placed her hand on his erect penis, the lawsuit states. She grabbed it and squeezed—hard—the complaint claims.
He let her go, and she ran out of the room, shaken.
Hannah and four other female paramedics at the Chicago Fire Department claim they were subjected to this sort of pervasive harassment—by various male superiors—in a new 57-page federal complaint filed this week. The women are all identified as Jane Does. They say they were stalked, groped, verbally harassed, and retaliated against. The suit was first reported by The Chicago Tribune.
All five of the women have worked as paramedics for the department for a number of years. They filed formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.
The suit alleges that the City of Chicago, the only defendant, failed to address the hostile culture of sexual harassment in its firehouses and other facilities. It claims that the city’s leadership enabled the men who were repeatedly accused of wrongdoing—allowing them to remain on the job, while their accusers were punished.
Two other women in the lawsuit name the same ambulance commander who allegedly attacked Hannah, claiming that he repeatedly made comments about their bodies, including “What color are your nipples?” “Do your panties get wet at work?” and “Do you wear a thong?” He is accused of forcibly kissing both of those women.
Another woman, Sarah*, said she was routinely subjected to sexual harassment by her field chief, who frequently went into graphic detail about how his wife will no longer have sex with him or give him “blow jobs.” The chief allegedly told Doe that he wanted a “no-strings” relationship from her and that “I have never found anyone so attractive on the job.”
Once when she went into private sleeping quarters in a firehouse to rest, the field chief—who had a master key to the rooms—walked into the darkened room and blocked the doorway. “I see you are laying down,” he allegedly said, refusing to turn on the light.
Sarah was afraid the field chief, who had repeatedly sent her explicit and flirtatious text messages, would sexually assault her, according to the complaint. She jumped up and prepared to defend herself, the suit claims.
“Maybe I should leave,” the chief allegedly said. He eventually did.
The fifth plaintiff in the suit claims she was retaliated against after filing a complaint against her ex-boyfriend, who also worked for the department.
Lynn Palac, a lawyer for the women, told the Tribune that her clients “want to remain productive employees” and filed the lawsuit to get “relief from the current hostile work environments.”
“The fire department and city has known about these complaints for a while and done absolutely nothing for these women,” she added.
City spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined comment to the Tribune except to say that “the city of Chicago does not tolerate harassment of any kind.”
Several other fire departments throughout the country have dealt with similar claims, including the Houston Fire Department, which was sued in February by the U.S. Department of Justice for sex discrimination and retaliation.