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Firefighter claimed she was target of bias against pregancy
U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division
Employment – Pregnancy; Civil Rights – Title VII; Employment – Retaliation; Civil Rights – 42 USC 1981, 42 USC 2000; Government – Municipalities; Employment – Workplace Harassment, Wrongful Termination, Gender Discrimination; Constitutional Law – Equal Protection; Employment – Hostile Work Environment; Civil Rights – Pregnancy Discrimination
Tanja Vidovic v. City of Tampa,
December 7, 2017
Tanja Vidovic (Female, 36 Years)
Wendolyn S. Busch;
Law Offices of Wendolyn S. Busch, PA;
Tanja Vidovic ■ Stanley T. Padgett;
Padgett Law, PA;
City of Tampa
Thomas M. Gonzalez;
Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, PA;
City of Tampa ■ Nathan Paulich;
Thompson, Sizemore, Gonzalez & Hearing, P.A.;
City of Tampa
On March 23, 2016, plaintiff Tanja Vidovic, 36, a firefighter, sued the city of Tampa for what she claimed was years of harassment, discrimination and retaliation by her superiors and co-workers. Vidovic had been hired by the Tampa Fire Rescue Department as a firefighter in November 2008. According to Vidovic, she was subjected, throughout her employment, to the harassment and discrimination by supervisors and co-workers, which created a hostile work environment. When Vidovic complained, she was told she had to endure it and nothing was done by those in authority to stop it. Vidovic asserted that when she became pregnant with her children, she was the object of inappropriate remarks. When she sought to be promoted to a driver/engineer, her captain, who had allegedly harassed her, and her district chief interfered with her efforts and she was passed over for promotion in favor of two male firefighters who scored lower on the promotional exam than she did. Vidovic transferred to a different station to get away from the harassing captain, but she claimed that when she reported continuing harassment the department again did nothing to stop it. In 2015, Vidovic filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging, among other things, that three captains asked her for sex and that the city retaliated against her after she complained about several issues, such as a lack of female bathrooms at most station houses. The city allegedly responded by giving her disciplinary write-ups and a poor performance evaluation which denied her a pay increase. Vidovic sued the City of Tampa, alleging Title VII gender discrimination, sexual harassment/hostile work environment, retaliation, and pregnancy discrimination. One day after Vidovic filed the lawsuit, she was fired. Prior to trial, the court dismissed, as a matter of law, Vidovic’s count for sexual harassment/hostile work environment. The city denied any discrimination against Vidovic on the basis of her gender, her pregnancy or any other protected characteristic. The defense counsel asserted that the city did not commit any adverse action against Vidovic or otherwise retaliate against her for any protected activity in which she engaged. The city maintained that it terminated Vidovic for her untruthfulness in departmental matters, noting that the city has a zero-tolerance policy when a firefighter commits the offense of untruthfulness. The alleged untruthfulness had to do with issues connected to Vidovic’s pregnancy and fitness for work. According to the city, Vidovic justified her failure to submit a health care provider’s statement of her ability to perform the essential duties of her position, a statement which all firefighters are required to submit whenever they are treated by a health care provider, by falsely stating that although she had an appointment to be seen by the health care provider, she did not keep the appointment and therefore did not receive any treatment. The alleged untruthfulness, which Vidovic committed in response to a request for the form from her superiors, was witnessed by several persons, including Vidovic’s union representatives, who were present when the question and statement were made. The city denied that Vidovic was wrongly passed over for promotion to the position of driver/engineer in favor of two male firefighters who scored lower on promotional tests. The driver/engineers are selected by the fire chief from a list of firefighters eligible for promotion. The fire chief considers a number of factors, including seniority, certifications, education, community service and departmental needs for specific specialties. The fire chief selected the two firefighters for the vacancies of which Vidovic complained based on his consideration of the individuals’ ranking on the lists of candidates and of all relevant factors. The city asserted that Vidovic’s gender was not considered, nor was it a factor, in the selection of the two firefighters the fire chief selected. Vidovic’s captain and district chief did not have any role in the selection process and did not interfere with the plaintiff’s efforts to be promoted. The city further contended that Vidovic was not subjected to a hostile working environment. The department did not discipline Vidovic after she filed her charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Vidovic’s evaluations reflected a valid assessment of her performance, and the department’s human resources division investigated all her claims of discrimination and harassment.
Vidovic sought compensatory damages for discrimination and the loss of her employment. At trial, she advanced a claim for back pay of about $87,000, which assumed no promotion. Her pension loss claim was $924,260 net of employee contributions based on an assumption of no promotion to driver/engineer. At trial, Vidovic’s counsel also asked the jury to award her front-end pay based upon alternative theories of non-promotion and promotion. Vidovic sought an additional $300,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress. She also sought attorney fees and costs. The city denied that she was entitled to any damages.
The jury determined that Vidovic was discriminated against because she was pregnant, and the city retaliated against her when she complained. But the jury did not find that the city discriminated against Vidovic because of her gender. The jury determined that Vidovic’s damages totaled $251,000.
Tanja Vidovic: $95,000 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $156,000 Personal Injury: emotional pain and anguish
Elizabeth A. Kovachevich
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel declined to contribute.