Sexual Harassment Suit Filed Against Orlando and Former Fire Chief

An assistant chief with the Orlando Fire Department has filed suit accusing a former fire chief of sexual harassment, and the city with failing to address it. Assistant Chief Dawn R. Sumter filed suit yesterday in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida naming the City of Orlando and former Fire Chief Roderick Williams as defendants.

Chief Sumter claims she was harassed and assaulted by Chief Williams when he was the fire chief. She claims she was later retaliated against by being repeatedly passed over for promotion to deputy chief, transferred to a less desirable position, excluded from career development opportunities, removed from successful activities she was engaged in, and having confidential information about her claims leaked to the membership. From the complaint:

  • Defendant Williams used his position of authority as the chief to make unwanted physical contact with Sumter, who was his subordinate.
  • Throughout Sumter’s employment, Defendant Williams, without notice, would grab Sumter to hug her and forcibly press his body against hers.
  • There were times Sumter felt that Defendant Williams was aroused.
  • He would make comments to Sumter such as, “you’re so beautiful,” “mmm … Dawn, your body … you are so sexy,” “I wish you weren’t married,” “God, you’re so pretty,” “I wish you were mine.”
  • Defendant Williams’s conduct was severe and pervasive and ultimately affected her ability to be considered for a deputy chief position.
  • Sumter was fully qualified to be promoted to deputy chief; however, during Defendant William’s tenure and thereafter she has been subjected to discriminatory conduct, unprovoked, open aggression, threats, harassing and derogatory comments.
  • Instead, less qualified similarly situated male employees have been promoted to the deputy chief position.
  • In January 2017, Sumter was presenting the new international Class A uniform to Defendant Williams for his approval.
  • Like he had in the past, Defendant Williams unexpectedly grabbed Sumter to hug her.
  • This was one of the occasions where she could feel that Williams was physically aroused.
  • He whispered to Sumter, “You’re so sexy, so beautiful. Mmmm, Dawn you are so sexy.”
  • Sumter immediately pushed back from the embrace and attempted to distance herself.
  • These actions affected the terms of Sumter’s employment and caused her to avoid certain interactions with Defendant Williams to her professional detriment.

Chief Sumter filed complaints with HR and eventually with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the treatment she recieved. She claims the city was reluctant to address the allegations which permitted the harassment and retaliation to continue. In March of 2018, two more women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Chief Williams. Then in October, 2018 seven more women came forward with allegations against one of the deputy chiefs who was promoted by Chief Williams over Chief Sumter. Chief Williams ultimately resigned in February, 2019.

The harassment did not stop with Chief Williams’ departure with the following allegation having occurred just last week:

  • On December 18, 2020, Sumter participated in a gift exchange with personnel from OFD’s Station 1.
  • The gift randomly selected by Sumter was a book entitled “50 Ways To Eat Cock, Healthy Chicken Recipes with Balls!” and bottle of supplement pills, “Max Load – Cum Harder! Cum Longer! Cum More!”
  • To date, Sumter continues to be subjected to sexual harassment, disparate treatment and retaliation.

The complaint alleges sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act, battery, negligent supervision, negligent retention, and a violation of Chief Sumter’s equal protection and due process rights.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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