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San Francisco fire officials are already under attack from some rank-and-file who have sued to force a tougher stance against on-the-job drinking. Now they’re accused in a second suit of being too harsh — with women in particular. Former firefighter Cynthia Childers doesn’t deny drinking on the job in 2001, but claims that male firefighters nabbed in similar situations were regularly given second chances. “She’s in a traditionally male job,” said Childers’ attorney, Sylvia Courtney, and that “probably has an awful lot to do with why she’s terminated while men aren’t.” Lawyers for the city declined to comment, a spokeswoman said Friday, because the city attorney’s office hadn’t been served with the complaint yet. Pete Howes, the executive officer of the fire department, said he could not discuss its policies in 2002, or the handling of Childers’ termination in particular, because she was fired under a former administration. But he insisted that discipline for substance abuse on the job is fairly applied under current Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, noting that she recommended firing a male acting battalion chief in April for allegedly breaking the department’s substance abuse policy. “She has a zero-tolerance policy,” but decides the nature of the discipline, from treatment to termination, on a case-by-case basis, Howes said. The city’s Fire Commission, which can overrule a chief’s recommendation, narrowly voted to fire Childers in September 2002 at former Chief Mario Trevino’s urging. Trevino, now the fire chief in Bellevue, Wash., declined to comment for this story. Childers had been caught 10 months before when she submitted to a screening test because a supervisor suspected she’d been drinking. She doesn’t deny she was drinking. But she believes she’s the first woman to have been found under the influence while on duty. And no one else at the department has been terminated for a first-offense alcohol or drug violation, unless they refused to be screened, her complaint claims. Childers v. San Francisco, 440527, also alleges that the culture at the department protected men more than women from the most severe discipline because firefighters routinely ignored or covered up incidents involving men. In court, Childers’ case will probably require the city to sift through records of each time a firefighter was fired for on-duty drinking, or wasn’t, and, if Childers’ was handled differently, show a legitimate reason why, said Allison Woodall, a labor and employment specialist at Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy. Harsh scrutiny for on-duty drinking and drug use is nothing new for the fire department. In June 2004, a civil grand jury concluded that the San Francisco department “knows, or should know, it has a problem.” Case-by-case discipline “can be viewed as unfair,” the report added, suggesting the department adopt a clear policy with a range of disciplinary options, and a set of circumstances that would call for each, to avoid the potential for favoritism or inequities. Childers’ suit comes on the heels of another filed in March against the city, the fire department and its chief. Twenty-eight firefighters, including nine officers in the department, allege that Hayes-White hasn’t done enough to make sure firefighters aren’t partaking on duty, or to enforce the department’s zero-tolerance policy with “swift and severe penalties.” The city is asking the court to throw out Smith v. Hayes-White, 505104, with a demurrer arguing, in part, that the department’s rules don’t prescribe any particular actions and require the chief to use her discretion.

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