Florida Fire Marshal Alleges Gender Discrimination

The former fire marshal for the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District has filed a gender discrimination and retaliation suit. Janet Washburn filed suit in US District Court for the Middle District of Florida alleging violations of Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Washburn, who was hired by the district in 2019, claims she was subjected to disparate treatment and when she complained, she was retaliated against culminating in her termination. Quoting from the complaint:

  • WASHBURN’s supervisors undermined her authority, disregarded her rank and chain of command, spoke to her with disrespect, were dismissive, and refused to evaluate her performance objectively.
  • The critiques against WASHBURN are for what males are praised for (i.e. a male leader is described as assertive but a female leader doing the same thing is described as abrasive and difficult or a “bitch”).
  • After several unfair performance reviews, WASHBURN filed written complaints of gender discrimination on or about August 4, 2022, August 17, 2022 and August 24, 2022.
  • The Defendant then hired a defense law firm to “investigate” WASHBURN’s allegations, and WASHBURN participated in the investigation and reiterated her complaints of gender discrimination; but rather than properly investigate, the investigator turned the tables and made disparaging comments against WASHBURN in his December 19, 2022 report.
  • The Defendant terminated WASHBURN’s employment on January 24, 2023.
  • WASHBURN was terminated due to her gender and in retaliation for lodging complaints of gender discrimination.
  • The Defendant has violated Title VII and the FCRA.

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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