The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City Fire Department discrimination lawsuit settled for $925,000

Former firefighter Sadie McDowell sued the city for claims of sexism, racism, and homophobia in the workplace.
Jordan Barry
Former Iowa City Firefighter Sadie McDowell addresses the council during a Iowa City City Council meeting at the City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. McDowell filed a lawsuit against the City of Iowa City in 2022 alleging she encountered sexism, racism and homophobia at the Iowa City Fire Department. The lawsuit ended after a 925,000 dollar settlement paid by the City of Iowa City.

Iowa City will pay former firefighter Sadie McDowell $925,000 in a settlement after she sued the city in 2022 on reported claims of sexism, racism, and homophobia in the workplace.

The Iowa City City Council approved a settlement agreement in the discrimination lawsuit on Tuesday between the city and McDowell, 41. 

McDowell attended the meeting Tuesday night and gave a brief but emotional speech during public comment. 

She called on the council to support a more equitable culture in the Iowa City Fire Department and provide better treatment for all people who seek help from public servants in Iowa City.

“This does not have to be the end of the story for the evolution of the ICFP and its service to its community,” McDowell said. 

Councilors did not discuss the settlement — nor was there other discussion from the public — and it was approved unanimously with other items on the consent calendar.

McDowell declined to comment after the meeting about the settlement.

The total settlement agreement is $925,000. According to the city’s agenda packet, $500,000 of the settlement is coming from the city out of pocket and will be taken from the city’s risk management fund. The city’s insurance is paying the remainder of the settlement.

Breakdown of where money goes:

  • $516,308.07 paid to McDowell directly
  • $371,191.93 paid to McDowell’s legal counsel
  • $37,500 paid to the Municipal Fire & Police Retirement System

McDowell’s lawsuit was slated for a July 30 trial start date at the Johnson County Courthouse.

In a 19-page filing in 2022, lawyers for McDowell listed some of the treatment she received while at the fire department. 

This included reportedly receiving praise as the “only good woman” who served in the department and overheard coworkers commenting on female employees’ appearance and dating history. 

The filing states that McDowell was reportedly subjected to unwanted and nonconsensual kissing and groping by another firefighter in 2017. 

McDowell also reportedly worked with a captain who asked her to drive them around the downtown loop when students were out partying so male firefighters could “ogle young women” and comment on their appearance.

Coworkers also reportedly made comments, including how Black people from Chicago were “ruining” Iowa City, and homophobic remarks, such as that teenagers come out as gay to be “cool.”

Because of everything she saw and heard, as well as what she was subjected to, McDowell reportedly developed depression and stress, according to the 2022 filing. She took time off and has since left the department.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Alejandro Rojas
Alejandro Rojas, News Editor
Alejandro Rojas is The Daily Iowan's news editor. He previously worked as a news reporter covering Johnson County and was the summer executive editor in 2023. He is a senior, double majoring in journalism and political science.