Female Fire Chief Faces Harassment Rap

Minneapolis Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek poses in her City Hall office in a Nov. 22, 2005 file photo. Bleskachek is on leave as the city conducts an internal investigation amid lawsuits from three female firefighters who allege various acts of discrimination and sexual harassment. (AP Photo/Jim Mone,File)
AP Photo
Bonnie Bleskachek knows what discrimination feels like.

After she joined the Minneapolis Fire Department years ago, male firefighters would leave the room whenever she walked in, a union official hurled an anti-gay slur at her because she is a lesbian, and a male comrade hit her in the head with a soda can, according to her lawyer.

Bleskachek endured, becoming Minneapolis' first female fire chief and the only openly gay fire chief of a major U.S. city.

But now, two years after ascending to the top job, Bleskachek is the one who stands accused of harassing women.

The 43-year-old chief is on leave as the city conducts an internal investigation amid lawsuits from three female firefighters who allege various acts of discrimination and sexual harassment. Also, a city investigation found evidence that the department gave preferential treatment to lesbians or those who socialize with them.

"It's really kind of unfortunate because of her position and her minority status," said Theresa Glomb, a professor of human resources and industrial relations at the University of Minnesota. "I imagine, even if found to be false, it could be very difficult for her to regain the respect that her achievement deserves."

Bleskachek declined to be interviewed for this story. Her attorney, Jerry Burg, disputed the allegations.