Woman suing Saratoga Springs says fire chief discriminated against female firefighters

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Chief Jess L. Campbell, Saratoga Springs Fire and Rescue. Image via Saratoga Springs Fire and Rescue on Facebook.

Chief Jess L. Campbell, Saratoga Springs Fire and Rescue. Image via Saratoga Springs Fire and Rescue on Facebook.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah – A former firefighter is suing the City of Saratoga Springs, alleging that the city fire department’s chief discriminated against and belittled her and other women as part of an intimidation campaign to drive women out of the department, and, when she didn’t quit, she alleges she was terminated in a discriminatory fashion.

According to a lawsuit filed August 28, Dawnya Taylor Halliday is suing the City of Saratoga Springs based on treatment she received as a firefighter working for Saratoga Springs Fire and Rescue.

Halliday was a captain with the fire department and had begun working with the department in 2000. At one point in her career she served as interim fire chief following her predecessor’s untimely death.

Her complaints begin when Jess Campbell was hired as fire chief in 2011 and allegedly, “began a campaign to intimidate the female members of the department in order to get them to resign.”

Halliday claims she and other female firefighters were discriminated against on an ongoing basis, including through a non-standard physical agility test they state was “adjusted to favor certain groups of people, but to disfavor female firefighters.”

The lawsuit states the test is used for applicants seeking to become firefighters, “but never” for those already trained and employed. They further state the test sought to test things irrelevant to the plaintiff’s performance and notes that Campbell has “no training in developing standardized tests for fire fighters.”

Halliday and other female firefighters had to test with 70 pounds of gear despite the fact their actual gear did not weigh that amount, according to the lawsuit. In addition, the female firefighters were not tested using 45-pound weight vests made for females but instead were required to use vests made for men. The lawsuit also claims preferential treatment and exceptions were given to male firefighters as they prepared, took, and were graded on the tests.

The lawsuit claims Halliday still passed all standardized tests she was required to take, but afterward was subjected to disciplinary action. The suit alleges the testing did not comply with standards set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Halliday was allegedly intimidated by Campbell, who, according to the lawsuit, told Halliday she “…should thank [him] for allowing [her] to go home and be a wife and mother.” Halliday was, at the time, a single mother.

The suit further alleges Campbell referred to female firefighters in demeaning ways. Saying things like, “we are not hiring any more of them,” when he learned an applicant was female and asking male firefighters, “what are we, women?” The lawsuit also states he told male firefighters they, “had better go put on your skirts.”

Halliday also claims she was excluded from serving in a Color Guard at a Saratoga Springs City celebration because Campbell allegedly only wanted men on the stage.

Other claims made in the lawsuit include that Campbell would ignore proper chain of command to communicate directly with firefighters under Halliday’s command, that he delayed providing her with a new badge in a timely fashion, and that he gave preferential treatment to male firefighters seeking training opportunities.

According to the lawsuit, Halliday suffers from Grave’s Disease, which according to MayoClinic.org is an immune system disorder that can have a variety of signs and symptoms. The lawsuit states that as a result, Halliday was unable to take a physical agility test when Campbell wanted her to do so, but that she sought an accommodation and a doctor told the city she should be able to take the test within 60 days.

The city refused the accommodation and terminated her, according to the lawsuit, which also states “This termination was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act.”

The lawsuit accuses the City of Saratoga Springs of violating Halliday’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including in terms of negligence and in creating a hostile work environment. They further claim violations under U.S. law relating to gender discrimination as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The lawsuit seeks damages in an amount to be shown at trial that will include damages for emotional distress. The plaintiff also seeks lost wages, back and front, and punitive damages against the defendant. They also seek an award to cover the cost of legal fees and paying attorneys for the case. Finally, the lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the defendant to cease current and future discrimination.

The lawsuit notes this action was taken after Halliday sought redress from the city and was ignored and after they filed Charges of Discrimination with the Utah Anti-Discrimination and Labor Division and received a Notice of Right to Sue.

FOX 13 News has reached out to the Saratoga Springs Fire Department for comment but has not yet received a response. City officials said they are aware of the lawsuit, but they have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

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