Court Orders Tampa Fire To Reinstate Victim of Discrimination

A female firefighter who was fired a day after she filed suit for discrimination and retaliation, has been awarded her job back. Yesterday, US District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ordered the Tampa Fire Department to reinstate firefighter Tanja Vidovic. The order comes a little more than two months after a jury awarded Vidovic $245,000 for discrimination.

Vidovic filed suit back in 2016 alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. She was fired the next day for violating city regulations regarding “moral turpitude”. On December 7, 2017 a jury ruled in favor of Vidovic and awarded her damages including back pay.

The city opposed Vidovic’s reinstatement request, pointing to the fact that her sexual harassment claims had been dismissed by the court prior to trial and that “the jury’s verdict did not include a specific determination that Ms. Vidovic was terminated because of her pregnancy or in retaliation for having engaged in protected activity.”

In rejecting the city’s arguments, Judge Kovachevich ruled:

  • In addition to back pay, prevailing Title VII plaintiffs are presumptively entitled to either reinstatement or front pay.
  • Reinstatement is the presumed appropriate remedy in a wrongful discharge case.
  • In this case, the Court concurs with Ms. Vidovic that reinstatement is appropriate.

Despite ordering Vidovic’s reinstatement, Judge Kovachevich refused her request for injunctive relief that would have ordered the city to:

  • remove the DA-88 from Ms. Vidovic’s termination from its records;
  • remove Ms. Vidovic’s performance evaluation from the Defendant’s records;
  • remove all career counseling forms and other disciplinary documents for Ms. Vidovic from its records from January 1, 2015 forward;
  • remove all other references in its employment records that Plaintiff was terminated for untruthfulness;
  • remove Jace Kohan’s notes regarding Plaintiff from Defendant’s records;
  • install separate bathroom facilities for women in all fire stations within five years;
  • eliminate all discretion from promotion decisions so that the person who ranks first on the promotion list shall receive the promotion;
  • prohibit supervisors accused of harassment from continuing in those roles pending the completion of an investigation;
  • establish a pregnancy policy that “allows women to choose either: (a) to go on light duty and keep their 24 hours on/48 hours off schedule, (b) to be fifth on an engine so they can participate in the 80% of calls that are medical related and step back on the fire or hazmat calls, or (c) to choose a 40-hour work week option;
  • establish a breast-feeding policy;
  • keep complaints of harassment or discrimination strictly confidential and address the complaints immediately;
  • provide a positive letter of reference for Plaintiff to future employers;
  • not provide any negative information concerning Ms. Vidovic to anyone; and
  • furnish notice of the Court’s order and injunction to all officers in Tampa Fire Rescue.

As explained by the judge:

  • the Court declines to award the additional requested injunctive relief delineated in the Motion.
  • First, the Court does not believe that it has the authority to purge public records from the Defendant’s control. Indeed, ordering such relief may cause the Defendant to run afoul of state public records laws.
  • Second, the instillation of bathroom facilities for women firefighters, and policies on promotions, work-hours for female firefighters who are pregnant, and the establishment of breast-feeding policies are best left to the City of Tampa to create and implement.
  • While the injunctive relief requested by Ms. Vidovic is in large part denied, the Court will order that Ms. Vidovic may opt to include a copy of the jury’s verdict, this order, and a copy of the final judgment in her personnel file.
  • This action will ensure that anyone looking at Ms. Vidovic’s work history with the City of Tampa will discovery that a jury of her peers found in her favor, and against the City of Tampa, on her Title VII pregnancy discrimination and retaliation claims.

Here is a copy of the reinstatement decision: Reinstatement

More on the story.

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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