City’s first female firefighter files suit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2004

Alabaster’s first and only female firefighter has filed a employment discrimination lawsuit

on the basis of sex

against the city of Alabaster and John Cochran (retired former fire chief).

Teresa D. Varden, 36, of Thorsby is represented by Thomas A. Woodley, Molly A. Elkin and Heidi R. Burakiewicz of the lawfirm of Woodley & McGillivary in Washington D.C. and locally by Raymond P. Fitzpatrick Jr. and Gary L. Brown of the lawfirm, Fitzpatrick, Cooper & Clark LLP.

According to Burakiewicz, the city of Alabaster has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which she said her firm opposes.

Alabaster Mayor David Frings and city attorney Jim Porter declined to comment on the case, citing &uot;pending litigation.&uot;

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in that she was treated differently based on sex.

According to Varden, in an affidavit, she was notified by

Cochran that she was terminated effective July 11, 2003, based on her alleged &uot;inability to successfully meet the standards&uot; that would qualify her to serve on an engine company.

&uot;I believe that I have been the victim of gender-based disparate treatment by the city in its application of the Combat Challenge. The Combat Challenge is not a valid job-related selection procedure that meets the requirement of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. The city utilized the Combat Challenge for the purpose of finding a basis to terminate me.&uot;

According to the lawsuit, Varden is the only female firefighter the city of Alabaster has ever hired. She was employed by the Alabaster Fire Department for nine years from May 14, 1994, until July 11, 2003,

Varden is seeking a declaratory judgment that the defendants &uot;willfully and wrongfully violated&uot; deprived her of her rights, privileges, protections, compensations and entitlements under the law. She is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages for each violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and against Cochran in the amount of $300,000 for each violation.

Varden also seeks punitive damages against Cochran for each violation, including interest. She is also asking that the city of Alabaster be ordered to retroactively reinstate her to her position as a firefighter with back pay, interest and other benefits.

Varden is also trying to stop the city from using the Combat Challenge as employment criteria. In addition, she is seeking

reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Burakiewicz said the Combat Challenge test used by the city has not been validated as a test to accurately evaluate one’s abilities to perform. She also said it has a different impact on women than it does on men.

&uot;We feel this is a meritorious case … nothing is certain, but we feel that Varden has a valid claim.&uot;

At presstime, Judge William M. Acker Jr. had not ruled on a motion to dismiss by the city of Alabaster and no trial date had been set for this case