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Two Tulsa firefighters sue department for sex discrimination

Tulsa Fire Department

Two Tulsa firefighters are suing the department over sex discrimination after they said they faced retaliation while trying to get promotions.

District 4 Chief Julie Lynn and Chief of Health and Safety Greta Hurt said that less qualified men received promotions over them. Twice.

Lynn and Hurt both made history as the department's first two women to serve as chief officers.

But now, after working for nearly 25 years at the Tulsa Fire Department, both women have been left wondering, "Is this really happening?"

Back in February of 2020, Hurt was named Administrative Chief by Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell. Shortly after, COVID took off and Driskell retired: leaving the FD-07, Deputy Chief position open.

According to Hurt, if more than three people sign up for a promotion on an executive level, hiring managers will send applicants to an outside assessment so the interview isn't done internally.

Both Hurt and Lynn applied for the opening. However, on the last day of sign ups, Hurt said Lynn removed her name off the list — leaving only three applicants.

Hurt was passed over for the job by a man who she said was a "lesser qualified applicant."

At first, Hurt said she was aggravated at Lynn for taking off her name. That's until she learned that Lynn was being pressured by her superiors and other firefighters to remove her name so the new Deputy Chief could be chosen without an outside assessment.

After the new Deputy Chief took office, Hurt said she began to notice that she was being left out of meetings, missing out on important communications and projects that she would usually be involved in.

After hearing rumors that she would be transferred to the field, which would be a demotion in pay, Hurt went to HR. While she wasn't immediately demoted, Hurt said she was kept at arm's length.

She said she later forced to move offices in March of 2021, where she started working as the Chief of Health and Safety rather than serving as Administrative Chief.

Two promotions for Assistant Chief opened up months later in August of 2021.

Lynn and Hurt both threw their names back into the hat along with two other male applicants. The two men were chosen over Lynn and Hurt.

Again, Hurt said both she and Lynn had more education and better qualifications. She also said that one of the applicants had taken over her position as the Administrative Chief before he was promoted to Assistant Chief.

For the last two years, Hurt said she's been struggling because she truly takes pride in what she does.

"I've worked my tail off to, you know, prove myself and earn respect , and lead by example and do all of the things to make me qualified and capable — and that was just overlooked. And minimally qualified males were chosen for those executive positions."

According to Hurt, there are currently no set qualifications for people being promoted to the executive level.

"I knew that I needed administrative experience and field experience, I knew I needed to be involved in the department to be even considered — but now all of a sudden it doesn't matter?" Hurt asked. "Certain people like me are made to jump through hoops, while others? Things are bent for them."

Hurt said the culture was very male dominated and engrained in old-school traditions.

"But of course, when we got into the business, we knew that," Hurt said. "We don't want anything special, but we definitely want equal."

Both women are asking courts for lost wages and retirement benefits. They're also calling for changes in the department's policies.

"Many times, the politically correct thing to say is, 'we want women' and 'we want diversity,' but do we really?" Hurts asked. "If you really do, then they need to be valued and there needs to be things that support that, and it needs to be known. But as it is, that is not known. I feel like women are tolerated instead of valued."

Hurt said she's sad her journey as a Tulsa firefighter is over and described it as the proudest accomplishment of her life.

The city of Tulsa said it does not comment on pending litigations.

Before making her way to Public Radio Tulsa, KWGS News Director Cassidy Mudd worked as an assignment editor and digital producer at a local news station. Her work has appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates across the country.