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LAWSUIT SOUNDS THE ALARM AT L.A. FIRE DEPARTMENT

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has filed a class action lawsuit against the city's Fire Department, accusing it of policies that discriminate against and condone harassment of women and minorities.

"I would compare the Los Angeles Fire Department to where the Los Angeles Police Department was 20 years ago in the hiring and promotion of women," said Carol Sobel, the lead attorney on the case, which was filed Monday in federal court. "Women made up about 2 percent of the LAPD then. That's about the same as it is in the Fire Department today."Fire officials declined comment Monday on the lawsuit.

Last week, Fire Chief Donald Manning repudiated his staff's preliminary report, which disputed the findings by a personnel department audit that discrimination and harassment did exist. In rejecting the report, Manning formed a special task force to investigate his department and its training procedures.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six former recruits - five of them women - but adds there may be as many as 100 other employees on the 3,100-person force that may have been subject to harassment or discrimination.

One of the plaintiffs, Diane Cameron, said women were forced to carry heavier ladders than men and forced to undergo more intense physical conditioning.

Further, Kay Harter, whose father is a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain, said she suffered injuries during training because of poor equipment and a refusal by fire personnel to allow her to make repairs.

The lawsuit also charges that the department has a number of "killer" stations designed to get rid of recruits not favored by upper management. The Fire Department has denied the existence of such stations.