Trial Date Set for Nona Allen
Case moves forward with evidence of potential gender-based discrimination
The Austin Fire Department's only African-American female firefighter has won the right to sue the city of Austin for gender discrimination. Nona Allen alleges that, after she was hired in 2007, she was deprived of basic necessities for doing her job and did not have access to the normal working conditions provided to the male firefighters. Allen had to battle for six months simply for the right to use a desk and a chair in the women's locker room, leaving her instead to sit on the concrete floor. Though Allen's initial complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was rejected, on Nov. 10, Judge Gisela D. Triana-Doyal of the 200th Judicial District Civil Court ruled that there was enough evidence of potential gender-based discrimination to justify a jury trial. (An earlier summary judgment rejected Allen's claim of racial discrimination.) The trial date has been set for Jan. 25, 2010.
Allen's lawyer, Will Sutton, says the ruling established that there is significant evidence of discrimination within AFD and, given the facts of the case, he said he would be surprised if the city doesn't try to settle. "At the trial, numerous Fire Department employees will have to admit some embarrassing facts over three to four days."
City of Austin attorney Chris Edwards did not return phone calls requesting comment, but there is some indication that the city is concerned about the ruling. On Nov. 13, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez wrote to City Manager Marc Ott and AFD Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, referring to the court decision as well as other "troubling" e-mails the city has received about the treatment of women within the Fire Department. Martinez asks staff to "provide a response including a plan of action, memos and or policy changes that AFD is working on or putting in place."
Allen said she's looking forward to the trial. "I hope we win and the city will hold people accountable to the city's goals."