Five female Emergency Medical Service officers announced a $1 million settlement of a seven-year-old gender discrimination lawsuit against New York City on Friday, breaking what their attorney called the department's "female firewall."
The lawsuit claimed the women were passed up for promotion several times, while less qualified male counterparts climbed the career ladder instead.
"I had to fight twice as hard to do my job," said Kathleen Gonczi, a captain and 23-year veteran of the fire department, at a press conference Friday. "I was doing all the work, but without the rank."
Gonczi joined fellow EMS officers Adrienne Knight, Mary Dandridge, Irene Kriuten and Amy Monroe in filing the lawsuit in 2006. All five served for decades with the FDNY and claimed in their suit to have faced similar patterns of discrimination.
They said they were denied opportunities for promotion and faced backlash if they raised the issue.
"It makes you feel invisible," said Dandridge, a lieutenant. "I had an excellent record; I could never find a reason when you're promoting others who are less qualified."
Yetta Kurland, the attorney for the plaintiffs, called it a win for all women in the workplace.
The $1 million settlement covers five years of back wages and compensatory damages. All five women agreed to retire by the end of 2013 as part of the settlement.
The settlement also includes promises from the department to improve practices such as providing extra equal opportunity training classes and ensuring employees have access to their evaluation records. All promotions will now be widely advertised as standard practice.
The city's Law Department called the settlement "appropriate," adding that the incidents alleged in the suit occurred years ago.
"The FDNY takes immense pride in its 947 female EMS employees and dedicates substantial resources to fostering an equitable and positive work environment for all," it said in a statement.
FDNY Deputy Commissioner Frank Gribbon said women represent about 26 percent of the EMS workforce and hold about 24 percent of the high ranking positions that are discretionary appointments.
The plaintiffs said they hope their suit would help level the playing field for other women in the FDNY.
"Elevating people regardless of gender or race means we are elevating the standards of the FDNY," Kurland said.
The FDNY launched a recruitment campaign last year aimed at attracting more female and minority applicants. The department's 2012 annual report says 1,952 women took the test to join last year. The FDNY couldn't say Friday how many passed.
Two other gender discrimination cases are currently pending against the department.