Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Firefighter sues to force K.C. station upgrades

Lawsuit claims promised renovationsof facilities for women haven’t emerged

March 16, 2003

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— A female firefighter and a former colleague claim facilities for women have not been upgraded as promised and are seeking to stop the city from spending money from a sales tax approved by voters to improve fire stations.

The motion for injunction filed Friday in federal court states that though the city has collected millions of dollars in sales-tax revenue, city and fire department officials have made no attempt to upgrade facilities for women. Unless that spending is stopped, it is possible that the sales-tax revenue will be spent without any such upgrades, the motion claims.

Battalion chief Kathleen Kline and former battalion chief Anne Wedow are listed as plaintiffs on the motion.

City Atty. Galen Beaufort said the city would oppose the plaintiff's request, but he declined to comment further while the litigation was pending. Fire officials also declined to comment.

Karen Howard, the attorney representing Kline and Wedow, also declined to comment.

The motion states that voters were told that a portion of a quarter-cent sales tax passed in August 2001 would be used to improve restroom and locker room facilities for female firefighters. Although the city has collected nearly $18 million in sales-tax revenue, very little has happened, the motion says.

"From 2000 through the present time there have been no modifications or upgrades to the women's locker rooms nor have there been any female locker rooms installed," the motion states, citing depositions of fire officials. "At this time there are no plans for locker room upgrades for any of the stations within Chief Kline's district nor in any of the stations Kline goes to for business reasons."

The motion follows a request for equitable relief filed by the plaintiffs last month. In that request, the plaintiffs asked that the court oversee the department's capital improvement plan and force "immediate implementation" of equal facilities for women.

As part of the request for equitable relief, the plaintiffs filed more than 300 photographs of department restrooms and locker rooms.

Last month while discussing progress of improvements that will use the sales-tax money, Fire Chief Smokey Dyer said the city had hired a consultant to create a strategic plan for station upgrades. He said the plan would take months to develop because of the need to analyze which stations needed minor remodeling, major refurbishing, or to be completely rebuilt.

Dyer said the department already has begun improving the locker rooms at one station, but that it didn't want to spend thousands of dollars to remodel a bathroom or locker room and then find out that the station needed to be torn down.

Wedow and Kline have previously won discrimination lawsuits against the city.

In 1998, a federal judge who found "blatant and inexcusable" sexual harassment within the Kansas City Fire Department and ordered special training to stop it.

Last year, a federal jury awarded Wedow $285,000 after she sued the department for failing to provide bathrooms and protective clothing that fit. The year before, Kline won a $50,000 verdict on similar issues.

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