Iowa City firefighter files lawsuit alleging discrimination, harassment, and retaliation

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 4:59 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - An Iowa City firefighter is suing the City for gender and sexual orientation discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Sadie McDowell, who has been on unpaid leave since 2021, listed a multitude of allegations regarding sexist, sexual, and racist comments and actions from members of the Fire Department. She says her complaints about these incidents resulted in no change from the department leaders and led to her being passed over for promotion.

In the lawsuit, McDowell alleges that:

  • Men would encourage each other to look at the “boobs” or “butt” of various women. They would point out women they called “sluts,” who were doing the “walk of shame.” They would comment on the way women’s rear ends looked in yoga pants or short denim shorts. They pointed out revealing clothing, saying, “I would never let my daughter wear that, but thank God that girl is.”
  • Male firefighters characterized female firefighters and fire officers as being unstable, too emotional, or weak leaders.
  • Male firefighters would joke about how often one of their colleagues would masturbate at work.
  • Male firefighters and managers repeatedly played the game “F--- Marry Kill,” One male firefighter insisted that female servicemembers should not be allowed to work on combat lines because their presence would distract the male soldiers.
  • In the summer of 2017, a male firefighter subjected Sadie to unwanted and non-consensual kissing and sexual groping. He slapped her rear end. He propositioned her and suggested they participate in a “threesome” with his girlfriend.
  • Firefighters claimed it was part of “Black culture” to get pregnant in order to get welfare benefits.
  • The Iowa City Fire Department exhibited racial bias in its responses to calls for service from members of the public.

You can read the full list of allegations below:

Iowa City denied McDowell’s claims in a statement Thursday:

“The City of Iowa City is committed to supporting the rights of all employees and creating a safe, inclusive, and respectful work environment. These are allegations only. The City denies the claims contained within the lawsuit and intends to fully and vigorously defend itself in court. Due to the ongoing litigation, the City will have no further comment.”

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