Florida FD Facing New Wave of Discrimination and Retaliation Suits

In 2012 the US Department of Justice filed suit against the Davie Fire Rescue Department alleging that by denying FF Lori Davis’ pregnancy related request for light duty the department committed gender and pregnancy discrimination.

The case was settled relatively quickly when the Town of Davie agreed to implement non-discriminatory policies and train all fire department personnel to ensure that future complaints of discrimination are handled properly.

In the past two weeks, three new suits have been filed in federal court against the department that raise questions about whether the department was sincere when it agreed to settle the 2012 suit, including one suit brought by Lori Davis claiming she was further discriminated and retaliated against.

The first of the three suits was filed on July 3, 2014 by FF Kristen Rohrer. Her allegations include the following:

  • Plaintiff, ROHRER became pregnant in 2010. Thereafter, Plaintiff began to experience, and continues to experience pervasive discrimination, a hostile work environment and disparate treatment in with regards to the terms and conditions of her employment, based solely on her gender, pregnancy/post pregnancy status, and lawful complaints related to same.
  • Following the birth of her child, Plaintiff was repeatedly humiliated and made to feel embarrassed regarding her use of a breast pump. Specifically, Chief Glen Samson, and other male co-workers would publically, regularly and maliciously comment that Plaintiff was taking time out of work to “pull on her udders”. On numerous occasions Chief Samson openly chastised Plaintiff about her breast pump usage at work, and went so far as complain about it to Plaintiffs then Captain, Captain Hudson.
  • In 2013 fire administration implemented a process whereby fire fighters could take a class to ‘act up” as Captain. …In a calculated effort to preclude and obstruct her from “acting up” to Captain, Plaintiff was continuously denied the opportunity to complete the three (3) rides, thereby denying her the opportunity to gain experience, promotion and extra pay. Conversely, all four (4) male candidates were provided with numerous opportunities to complete, and did complete the required number of “rides”, and all have been officially approved to “act up” as Captain.

The three count suit alleges sexual harassment under state and federal law, pregnancy discrimination under state and federal law, and sex discrimination and retaliation under state and federal law.

Here is a copy of FF Rohrer’s complaint: Rohrer v Davie

The second suit was filed on July 14, 2014 by Lori Davis, which includes the following allegations:

  • [O]nce LORI DAVIS became pregnant, the Town of Davie became hostile toward her. The Fire Chief and sometimes Town Administrator, Chief Montopoli, has stated that he believes that women take advantage of the system by getting pregnant while employed by the fire service, and he has enacted hostile policies against women that reflect his attitude and his expressed desire to avoid becoming “like Miami-Dade”, with respect to pregnant female workers.
  • THE TOWN OF DAVIE’S culture and attitudes toward women has been slower to change, and consequently, LORI DAVIS continues to experience hostile work environment discrimination, gender discrimination, and retaliation for coming forward and opposing discrimination and participating in the investigations
  • On June 18, 2013, LORI DAVIS was injured during a training exercise, which was witnessed by two decorated Battalion Chiefs, Battalion Chief Popick and Battalion Chief Rivero.
  • The TOWN OF DAVIE seized this as an opportunity to target and discredit LORI DAVIS in a manner unprecedented by other similarly situated male employees. Moreover, LORI DAVIS’S retaliatory treatment by the TOWN OF DAVIE did not occur to similarly situated employees who have not filed EEOC Charges, participated in EEOC investigations, and opposed unlawful discrimination.

Davis alleges that the town’s workers comp case manager conspired with her doctor to administer drug tests without her informed consent, schedule appointments in violation of her collective bargaining agreement, and even deny her needed medication while violating HIPAA and implying she had failed a drug test.

  • The TOWN OF DAVIE then coordinated an attack on her, ostensibly claiming that LORI DAVIS had a drug problem despite her prior clean drug tests and the fact that her injury was well-documented and witnessed by experienced, senior Battalion Chiefs. The TOWN OF DAVIE then sent her own confidential employment records to another doctor she had never met, in violation of HIPAA as well as the CBA and sought an “expert” to try and justify their actions toward her. This doctor was not approved by LORI DAVIS, not part of any Workers’ Compensation claim, and was used to provide a self-serving slander against LORI DAVIS utilizing limited information provided to him by the TOWN OF DAVIE.
  • Just as the TOWN OF DAVIE had made no effort to keep any of LORI DAVIS’S discrimination claims confidential, and disseminated their hostility toward her through the rank and file, the fact of her testing was widely disseminated by the Town of Davie and soon everyone in the fire service was under the erroneous belief that she had been caught illegally using drugs. This caused considerable damage to her professional reputation, and could have had no other result. Firefighting is a dangerous job and undermining a crew leader creates safety issues. The TOWN OF DAVIE then placed her on administrative leave pending the results. This magnified the problem because as people would cover shifts for her, they would inevitably ask why, and would be advised (and not corrected) by Town of Davie supervisors that LORI DAVIS was out pending a drug test. LORI DAVIS was also hurt financially by these actions, because she loses 5 percent pay by not being on rescue as a result of being on administrative leave.
  • The TOWN OF DAVIE also has made no secret of its negativity toward the individuals, including LORI DAVIS, who have brought EEOC Charges against the TOWN OF DAVIE. Since filing her Charge, LORI DAVIS has been publically snubbed, isolated, and undermined by Deputy Chief Malvasio and Chief Montopoli. The TOWN OF DAVIE also had no qualms about letting everyone know who had complained, and even blamed policy changes on the women who had complained at the TOWN OF DAVIE. They have done nothing to protect LORI DAVIS and others who oppose discrimination from derision by their coworkers, and have go so far as to have “sensitivity training” conducted by the same law firm that defended the TOWN OF DAVIE against all the EEOC Charges, the EEOC investigations, and the Department of Justice investigations.

The one count complaint alleges unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII.

Here is a copy of FF Davis’s complaint: Davis v Davie

The third suit was filed by Battalion Chief Jose Rivero, an 18 year veteran who claims he was retaliated against telling EEOC investigators that the department did indeed discriminate against women.

According to Chief Rivero’s complaint:

  • While working at the Town of Davie, Battalion Chief Rivero witnessed a severe and pervasive hostile work environment, which included treating a women as second class citizens and ridiculing them on the basis of their pregnancy status and gender. He also witnessed women being denied proper promotions, and otherwise being passed over for other less qualified male fire fighters.
  • Battalion Chief Rivero also witnessed the lengths that the administration at the Town of Davie would go to do single out and retaliate against anyone who opposed unlawful employment practices within the Town of Davie and the lengths that they would go to cover up those unlawful employment practices.
  • Battalion Chief Rivero participated in administrative investigations conducted by the EEOC and the Department of Justice. He was also deposed in an administrative action filed by several females, and one male, who opposed the unlawful employment practices at the Town of Davie.
  • The Town of Davie pressured Battalion Chief Rivero extensively prior to his providing statements in deposition and to agency investigators. Battalion Chief Rivero was reminded that he was “at will” and his ability to provide for his family was threatened by the Town of Davie.
  • After he testified, the Town of Davie retaliated against him for his testimony. He was isolated. He was identified as someone who was not a team player. He was publically snubbed by his supervisors.
  • Following his testimony, Fire Administration continually threatened to punish him by assigning him to “days” which is a well-known and commonly used tactic to make an example of someone at the Town of Davie, and particularly an attack that this administration has used on complainants who have opposed the Town of Davie’s unfair employment practices.
  • On August and September 2012, Battalion Chief Rivero was on light duty due to an on-the-job injury. Deputy Chief Malvasio, a party whose discriminatory practices, he had opposed took this as an opportunity to physically harass and attempt to intimidate Plaintiff. Deputy Chief Malvasio regularly snubbed him, even in instances where this would undermine his authority with his chain-of-command. On one occasion, after initially snubbing him, Deputy Chief Malvasio approached Battalion Chief Rivero from behind and grabbed him on his shoulders, squeezed and pushed down as you might use to make a dog heel. This physical harassment only started after Battalion Chief Rivero vocally opposed the Town of Davie’s unlawful discriminatory practices. Instances such as these were unwelcome and frankly unprecedented contact in the history of Plaintiff’s tenure with the Town of Davie.
  • Deputy Chief Malvasio then stated in a hostile manner that Battalion Chief Rivero needed to prepare himself and his family because Deputy Chief Malvasio was going to assign him to days soon. It is well-known that Deputy Chief Malvasio utilizes “days” as a means to punish people. In the past, Deputy Chief Malvasio has threatened to give people a “month days” and to use the disruption and hardship of arbitrary “days” assignments to retaliate against people who have opposed his unlawful conduct.
  • On December 2012, during a morning meeting, Deputy Chief Malvasio allowed Battalion Chief Sampson to antagonize and harass Battalion Chief Rivero in front of him.
  • When Battalion Chief Rivero asked Deputy Chief Malvasio if he was going to intervene, he just laughed and said, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Not only was Deputy Chief Malvasio allowing this hostile situation to continue without any recourse, it was clear he was sending a message that such behavior and comments toward him were permissible.
  • To date, Battalion Chief Rivero’s workdays typically include terse interactions with Deputy Chief Malvasio, including scowls, glares, speaking to Plaintiff in a demeaning tone.
  • On December 28, 2012, Battalion Chief Rivero was advised that he was being taken off his regular shifts and reassigned to “days”. This was a method of retaliation that had been utilized by the Town of Davie to retaliate against other employees who opposed discriminatory practices by the Town of Davie.
  • Once Battalion Chief Rivero was on the day shift, Deputy Chief Malvasio and Chief Montopoli began disparately disciplining him for pretextual reasons.

The one count complaint alleges unlawful retaliation under Title VII.

Here is a copy of Chief Rivero’s complaint: Rivero v Davie

FF Davis and Chief Rivero are represented by attorneys Erik A. Nelson and George S. Franklin, of the firm of Nelson & Franklin, from Miami Beach.

FF Rohrer is represented by Darren J. Rousso, P.A. and Joshua M. Entin, of Entin & Della Fera.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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