Florida Captain Alleges Sexual Harassment

A  captain with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue has filed suit accusing her supervisors of sexual harassment and retaliation.

Captain Amanda Vomero filed suit last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. The two count complaint includes a litany of allegations of inappropriate and vulgar comments from Division Chief Chris Hoch and to a lesser extent other officers. The allegations were initially reported by a colleague of Captain Vomero’s, who requested an investigation be initiated. Thereafter Captain Vomero claims she was retaliated against.

From the complaint:

  • Sometime during the year 2015, Chief Chris Hoch was assigned as Division Chief of Operations. Plaintiff is junior in seniority to Chief Hoch and lower ranked. She was the only female employee of rank to attend management meetings during which Chief Hoch would make her the brunt of most of his jokes.
  • Anytime Plaintiff would contribute to the conversation, or share her thoughts or ideas, Hoch would point to her and say, “Oh yeah, what engine do you want to go back on? Engine 45 is waiting for you”.
  • Plaintiff would repeatedly ask Hoch to stop and only after an extended period of time had elapsed would Hoch move onto something else, but he never stopped his verbal attacks on Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff was constantly subjected to crude and discriminatory comments by Chief Hoch. At one point in time, Plaintiff was approached by two (2) coworkers who told her Hoch was trying to push her out and replace her with his alleged girlfriend, Captain Crystal Little, who also worked for Defendant.
  • Plaintiff confronted Hoch with this information, asking if it was true, but he laughingly denied the rumors.
  • Going into September, 2015, Chief Hoch began teasing Plaintiff about the pants she was wearing telling her, “your work pants make you look like your wearing skinny jeans and you have no business wearing skinny jeans.
  • On September 26, 2015, Plaintiff spoke with Chief Collins and told him she felt that Chief Hoch’s teasing had escalated and become personal in nature. Collins responded by telling Plaintiff she was blowing it out of proportion, and that it was just, “good humor, firehouse fun”.
  • A few days later, Chief Hoch, again in front of Chiefs Collins, Tolbert, Cooper and Captain Park asked Plaintiff when she was going to stop strangling her pockets and get a bigger size of pants. Plaintiff responded by stating, “that is enough about my pants Chief Hoch”. Hoch continued talking as if he had not even heard Plaintiff speak.
  • On October 6, 2015, at the back end of a productive meeting with Chief Hoch, he suddenly asked Plaintiff, without warning, if she wanted to hear the latest rumor.
  • Plaintiff politely declined, but Hoch continued anyway and said the ”rumor is that you are banging Chief Cooper because you like dark meat and that’s why you want to hire all of these black guys”. He went on to say, “Oh, and before you were banging Cooper, you were banging me”.
  • Plaintiff immediately told him to never say those things again, but Hoch ignored her and continued on.
  • The next day, October 7, 2015, late in the afternoon, Chief Tolbert brought Plaintiff into Chief Hoch’s office office to discuss official business. As soon as she entered the office, Tolbert looked at Plaintiff, in front of Hoch, and said, “Hey Amanda, I heard a rumor about you”.
  • Plaintiff immediately asked him to stop, at which time Hoch said, “Oh what’s wrong with you, Cooper is a good looking guy, and I am a little offended. Why wouldn’t you want to bang me?”
  • Plaintiff left Hoch’s office and went to hers, followed by Tolbert and Ho.ch. Once inside, Tolbert apologized to Plaintiff for the way Hoch had just spoken to her, but Hoch responded by saying, “what kind of shit· are you talking now?” Plaintiff responded by saying,” Your boss was apologizing to me for your behavior”.
  • As Plaintiff was closing her door and walking away, Hoch responded by stating, “I just want to kick you in your butt right now.”
  • The following morning, October 8, 2015, Plaintiff had a conversation with Captain Houston Park. He was aware of the discriminatory and harassing behavior Plaintiff had been subjected to over the last several months.
  • Park told Plaintiff he was going to see that it stopped. Plaintiff responded by telling Park she would handle it herself, because she feared retaliation. In response Park replied, “let me know how that works for you.”
  • Without Plaintiffs knowledge, Captain Park prepared a letter of complaint concerning the above referenced information and submitted it up the chain of command.
  • Rather than immediately initiating a notice of inquiry as required by policy, to establish an internal investigation into the allegations referenced in Park’s complaint, fire rescue instead sent the complaint to Defendant’s Human Resources Office.
  • Plaintiff was interviewed about her allegations by an investigator for Defendant on November 3, 2015.
  • On December 3, 2015, Plaintiff dual filed a charge of discrimination based on sex and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and The Florida Commission on Human Relations.
  • In early January 2016, Plaintiff went on extended leave from her position, as she felt Defendant was doing nothing to protect her from the retaliatory actions of Hoch and Tolbert. She returned to her position in April 2016, but lost close to $7,000.00 in wages as a result of a sick leave pay out she was required to take.
  • In October of 2016, Plaintiffs husband, Frank Vomero, a “floating” Captain employed with Defendant, was· disciplined inconsistent with policy. When Plaintiff’s husband attempted to grieve the discipline, he was advised by his battalion Chief not to move forward with it, because he would wind up in front of Hoch and Tolbert and the discipline would be upheld.
  • On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff discovered that the rumors Hoch had perpetrated over a year earlier, concerning her alleged sexual relationship with Chief Cooper were still being talked about throughout the department….
  • Some of these comments had to do with the Plaintiff allegedly getting a “boob job”, “banging the chief’ and “did Chris Hoch really say to Amanda how did Cooper’s big black cock taste”.
  • All of this was a result of the continued comments and rumors being made by Chief Hoch.

Captain Vomero is seeking damages for emotional distress, humiliation, mental pain, and suffering; psychological pain and injury; and loss of income, including back pay/front pay/compensatory damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Vomero v Palm Beach County

Incidentally, this is 29th sexual harassment lawsuit that I entered into my Fire Service Litigation Database this year. The grand total for sexual harassment suits all-time is now 361… and sadly I know I do not have all of the cases that have been filed.

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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