An Omaha firefighter has filed a lawsuit against the City of Omaha, alleging discrimination and harassment based on her race, color and gender.
Jane Crudup was hired as a full-time firefighter on Jan. 14, 2019. According to the lawsuit, she is the fifth Black woman to serve as a firefighter in the more than 150-year history of the City of Omaha.
The court complaint, filed last week, alleges several accounts of harassment and discriminatory behavior. It cited a March 3 incident in which Crudup returned to Station 41, near 61st Street and Ames Avenue, to find her personal firefighter coat, pants, boots and helmet hanging from a flagpole.
She “found her helmet hanging above her firefighting coat, displayed in an order, simulating a hanging or public lynching ... ” according to the complaint.
She went inside the fire station and addressed the incident but “no firefighter at Station 41 admitted culpability,” according to the lawsuit. She then took a picture of the equipment hanging from the flagpole before taking it down.
No disciplinary action was taken, and the incident wasn’t further investigated by Crudup’s supervisor, the lawsuit said.
Crudup alleges that later that month, another firefighter attempted to drive away in a truck she had just finished refueling and was climbing in, causing her to almost fall from the moving truck. She said she confronted the firefighter, who laughed and said, “I thought you were inside the truck.” After Crudup responded that she was not, the firefighter said he thought she was going to ride in another truck.
She also told of finding a used face mask shoved into her boot, and her helmet tampered with.
In July, an internal investigation into the harassment claims by the City of Omaha found the claims were “unsubstantiated” and that the incidents were “hazing for the purpose of training.”
Crudup has been on leave from the fire department since May 22.
Bernard in den Bosch, a deputy city attorney, said Thursday morning that the city is aware of the lawsuit but had not yet been served.
“We deny the allegations of discrimination, and we’ll defend the lawsuit to the fullest,” in den Bosch said.
He declined to comment further.
The Omaha Association of Black Professional Firefighters released a statement about Crudup’s lawsuit.
“Everyone has a right to dignity and respect in the workplace,” the association said. “We commend our sister, who is a Black professional firefighter, for using the chain of command and elevating this report for a full investigation.
“Now that all internal options have been exhausted, we support her decision to take the report to court.”
The lawsuit states that as of September, the fire department employed 35 Black firefighters out of 647 firefighters, representing 5.4% of sworn personnel, even though 12% of Omaha’s population is Black.
The suit, which references a World-Herald article from September about diversity within the department, notes that Fire Chief Dan Olsen is quoted as saying he appreciates the value of a diverse workforce.
The lawsuit states there’s a history of Black women firefighters filing harassment or discrimination claims against the department.
In March 2002, then-Capt. Linda Brown said she had been harassed by white male coworkers after she testified in favor of a proposed affirmative action plan in the city, World-Herald archives show.
Brown claimed that fellow firefighters “jumped” her at a fire station and cursed her for defending the plan. She said another woman in the department later discovered that a toilet in a women’s restroom at the station had been filled with feces from multiple people.
Two firefighters, both White men, were eventually suspended without pay after an investigation into Brown’s complaint. Those men described the bathroom incident as a practical joke that wasn’t targeted at Brown.
A federal judge in 2005 threw out a lawsuit by Brown that claimed the city failed to stop her coworkers from harassing her. U.S. Magistrate Judge F.A. Gossett ruled that city officials “promptly investigated each of (Brown’s) complaints and took remedial action in the forms of substantial internal investigations, notices, training and disciplinary action.”
Our best Omaha staff photos of February 2021