Firefighter files suit against department claiming sexual discrimination

Is it a firehouse or a frat house?

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Is it a firehouse or a frat house?

A female firefighter in South Suburban Country Club Hills says she's had enough of the boy's club atmosphere, including firefighters watching porn.

In an amended lawsuit filed Wednesday, the firefighter lays out new accusations.

FOX 32: You wanted to be a firefighter?

"All my life," said Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki.

Dena said she was thrilled when her dream came true and she joined the Country Club Hills Fire Department in 1998. But on her very first day on the job, there was a sign of trouble ahead.

"The chief whispered to me some pretty inappropriate comments, and I had to question myself if this is what I was gonna do," Dena said.

That story and dozens more are detailed in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by Dena against Country Club Hills, and three current and former leaders of its fire department.

She describes a frat house atmosphere, including sexist insults, a sex toy being tossed at her, and firefighters breaking into her shower and handing her a towel.

"Who thought it was quite funny, and then reprimanded me for not locking the door properly," Dena said.

And the lawsuit says some members of the department watched porn while on duty, in places where she could see it.

"They watch it in the living room. They watch it in their private room. Back in the office. Doors wide open," Dena said.

"There's never been a woman present," said Lt. Derek Dangoy.

During depositions taken by Dena’s lawyer, Country Club Hills firefighters even admitted watching porn on duty.

Lawyer: "Did you ever watch that kind of material at the station?"

Dangoy: "I have."

Lawyer: "As a lieutenant?"

Dangoy: "Yeah, as a lieutenant."

Another lieutenant said he told firefighters to turn it off, but he did not write them up or report it.

Lawyer: "Did you write them up?"

Lt. Carl Pycz: "No."

Lawyer: "Did you report it to anybody?"

Pycz: "No."    
     
In her lawsuit, Dena says the retaliation got worse in 2011 when she took the promotional exam to become a Lieutenant.

The lawsuit alleges that 18 of the questions on the exam were written by Deputy Fire Chief Steven Pycz, whose son, Carl, was also taking the test.

"The father of someone taking the test wrote the questions, the exact questions that were on the test. On those questions that his father wrote he got 100 percent right," said Dena’s attorney Dana Kurtz.

After Pycz got the promotion, Dena complained.

Not long after that, someone put a doll on top of her locker.

"(The doll was) a little girl with her hands over her mouth. I don't know what anyone thinks but I think the common person would say that's a threat to keep your mouth shut," Dena said.

FOX 32: Did you take it that way?

"I did take it that way," she said.

Instead of shutting her mouth, Dena filed suit.

Country Club Hills officials won't talk about the allegations, but in a memo obtained by Dena’s attorney, Lt. Pycz asks the current chief to suspend Dena with pay: "The truth has been severely misconstrued by Dena in order to try to obtain the position of Lieutenant....I truly feel she is a hazard and a danger to work with."

And in his deposition, former Fire Chief Joseph Ellington had a different take on Dena’s complaints.

"She was a pain in the butt from day one...to everybody on the department," said Ellington.

"It's their small town, their small society, their small political machine. And they do what they want and they don't have to answer to anyone. It's time for them to answer to someone," Dena said.

Dena first filed the suit in 2012, hoping it would end the harassment. She says it only got worse, which is why she's speaking out publicly now and revealing new details of what she says she went through in the amended complaint filed Wednesday.

An attorney for the village told FOX 32 that they can't comment on pending litigation.

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