On gender, L.A. fire department can’t win for losing

by Walter Olson on June 12, 2007

Like pretty much every big-city fire department, the one in Los Angeles has come under intense legal pressure to hire more female applicants, and in doing so to water down or eliminate whatever former prerequisites for hiring (such as physical tests calling for a show of upper-body strength) show “disparate impact” against women. And having been whipped up one side of the street on those grounds, it now gets whipped down the other side for having apparently responded in the most direct and practical way to the first set of legal pressures:

In the latest bizarre court case involving the Los Angeles Fire Department, a jury has awarded $3.75 million to a male fire captain who said he was retaliated against for not making training exercises easier for women.

Fire Capt. Frank Lima alleged in his lawsuit against the city that he was told by superiors that he shouldn’t hold women to the same standards as men. The reason: The Fire Department was under pressure from City Hall to increase the number of women within its ranks.

Thursday’s judgment in the 2 1/2 -week case in Los Angeles County Superior Court was notable because it involved $2.96 million in noneconomic damages — in other words, money for pain and suffering.

In his lawsuit, Lima alleged that he suffered heart problems and stress after the department tried to punish him and subsequently denied him certain assignments.

(Steve Hymon, “L.A. fire captain awarded $3.75 million”, Los Angeles Times, Jul. 9). For more on the legal pressures on fire departments to relax performance standards that women have trouble meeting, see Jan. 18. For a related set of sued-if-you-do, sued-if-you-don’t dilemmas for fire departments, see Mar. 24, 2005 (reverse discrimination suits by whites after Chicago altered rules to encourage black applicants). Finally, we covered (Dec. 5, 2006 and earlier posts) the saga of the $2.7 million settlement that the LAFD paid to a firefighter subjected to a prank in which he was tricked into eating dog food.

{ 6 comments }

1 Steve 06.12.07 at 8:18 am

When I was in the police academy, the female cadets were allowed to WALK the 1.5 miles “run” and only needed to complete 20 “girl” push-ups. Thus, I wasn’t surprised when I when I made it to patrol, they were completely useless. Seems kind of obvious to me, but then again I’m not as wise as the federal judges who implement these “progressive” policies.

2 rbb 06.12.07 at 8:28 am

In the Air Force, the toughest physical standards for women were for 18 year old females and the standards are lowered for age. The sad part was that the standards for a 50+ year old male were tougher than those of an 18 year old female…

3 Andrew Engel 06.12.07 at 10:45 am

Doesn’t this one sorta pull you in two directions. On the one hand, this guy fights back for reason in the only forum that is open to him. On the other, he is given a huge sum of money when there is limited economical damage. Pain and suffering? Come on!

4 Anonymous Attorney 06.12.07 at 11:59 am

I don’t care if I burn to death in a fire. As long as the fire department is sufficiently diverse, we’re all better off. We need to keep our eye on what’s important, people.

5 Walter E. Wallis 06.12.07 at 1:11 pm

A few years ago, a video was released in Frisco showing female candidated repeated failure to handle ladders and hoses. Big stink. Who released that video?
Some day, someone will sue on behalf of the unrescued.

6 urban fireman 06.12.07 at 3:06 pm

The Chicago reverse discrimination suit was for a different test, a Lt’s promotion test. The net result is the same, dammed by both sides. Things have reached the sad state of needing reading tutors for minority candidates in the academy. The problem is no longer the unfit for the fire service, but where to hide them all, there’s just too many.

Walter, big stink, cmon you know she is still on the job, and soon to take the Lt’s test, all the better to get back at all the mean men who held her to a standard she could never meet.

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