Orlando Fire Inspector Filed Suit Over Sexual Orientation Discrimination

A fire inspector with the Orlando Fire Department has filed suit alleging harassment and discrimination on account of his sexual orientation. Theodore M. Washington, II filed suit in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida alleging violations of state and federal discrimination law.

Washington claims that supervisors ridiculed him, disciplined him without cause, and retaliated against him when he complained. He claims the harassment started shortly after he was hired in June of 2019. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On about Washington’s third day of employment with Defendant he was approached at his work cubicle desk by Deputy Fire Marshal Alvin Sims who noticed a photograph of a male in his work cubicle and inquired if that was Plaintiff’s brother.
  • Washington informed him that it was instead his boyfriend.
  • In response to this information Deputy Marshall Sims stated with a look of disgust that Plaintiff should take down the photograph and that Washington was to keep his private life private.
  • After the above incident Washington noticed that his work environment began to change into one that was more hostile towards him, where he was more ostracized and treated differently than his co-workers for no valid reason.
  • On or about July 15, 2019, his department had a fish fry breakfast wherein the entire 3rd floor attended.
  • As Washington approached the break area and grabbed a spoon Inspector Williams stated to the Plaintiff in front of a number of co-workers that Plaintiff was to “get those dick beaters away from the food and go wash your hands.”
  • The comment was overheard by Deputy Marshall Sims, among others.
  • On or about July 23, 2019, Plaintiff’s division walked to a nearby 7-Eleven store for coffee.
  • Washington was talking to a fellow female coworker and sharing pictures on their phones when Inspector Williams walked over and stated to Plaintiff that he was to “get that gay shit away from me. I’m not with all that gay shit.”
  • On or about August 6, 2019, Plaintiff met with Deputy Marshall Sims where he was instructed to keep personal space between him and Inspector Williams.
  • Plaintiff did not understand why he was being asked such a question, as Williams was the one who had actively humiliated and harassed Plaintiff due to his sexual orientation.
  • After Washington explained to Deputy Marshall Sims that he had been keeping notes contemporaneously with such acts of discrimination his tone towards Plaintiff changed.
  • Deputy Marshall Sims then stated to Plaintiff, “I have to ask you this question and I need you to be honest with me. Do you like [Inspector] Mark Williams?”
  • A humiliated and targeted Washington responded no, he was not. Deputy Marshall Sims then stated to Plaintiff that “we hired you to carry yourself like a straight man.”
  • Defendant continued to ostracize and otherwise discriminate against Plaintiff during the next several months.
  • On or about January 3, 2020, Washington requested a meeting with Fire Marshall Hughes to discuss his hostile and discriminatory work environment.
  •  After hearing Plaintiff’s complaints Fire Marshall Hughes stated that she was “taking over your training; I don’t want another sexual harassment case in this department.”

Nonetheless, according to Washington, the offensive behavior continued, prompting him to file a complaint with HR in March, 2020. He claims that thereafter he was passed over for a promotion, threatened for seeking help from the union, and given a performance evaluation that was lower than it should have been. He further claims supervisors were using pretexts to retaliation and intimidate him.

Here is a copy of the compliant:

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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