Unwanted groping, naked men: Former Tampa firefighter details sex discrimination

In December, a jury found the city of Tampa guilty of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation when she complained.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Unwanted groping, naked men on the job and requests for sex. That’s what a former Tampa firefighter says she went through for seven years on the job.

Just last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor was in Tampa hosting a panel about sexual harassment in the workplace. Tanja Vidovic was the headliner.

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In December, a jury awarded the former firefighter $245,000 in damages. The jury decided she was discriminated against while she was pregnant and retaliated against when she complained during her time with Tampa Fire Rescue.

More: Female firefighters want fair policies addressing pregnancy

Vidovic sat down with 10News reporter Liz Crawford to detail what it was like while working with the department.

Before signing up, she said being a firefighter seemed like the perfect fit.

“I wanted a career where I was going to be more involved in my community,” Vidovic explained.

But early on she learned this was not what she signed up for.

“While I was in training, I had a captain grab my breasts a number of times," she said. "I had another captain ask for sex.”

For the first few years, Vidovic said she just put up with it. Eventually, the harassment wore her down.

During her career, Vidovic asked for female bathrooms at the firehouses. She was mocked on a firefighter Facebook group. In a thread discussing how money should be spent, a male firefighter commented, "Apparently some females think pooping in private is more important."

Another male colleague posted a picture of a port-a-potty and wrote, "Ok. It's solved. Let's move on to more pressing issues."

Vidovic felt bullied another time when she complained about male firefighters sleeping naked just a few feet away from her. Once again, a male firefighter wrote on Facebook, "I wonder if I could get a doctor's note stating that I suffer with insomnia if I sleep with clothes on? My oh my…the 'toughest job' has become so sensitive. What's next...mandatory aloe hand soap in ALL bathrooms?"

Vidovic reported theFacebookk bullying to the city of Tampa's human resources department, but her concerns were dismissed.

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In an e-mail, an HR representative told her, "…fellow firefighters' use of a non-City sponsored forum for purposes of expressing opinions is protected speech."

She did, however, get the attention of former Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione who tried to encourage a change within Tampa Fire Rescue.

Montelione said she doubts there’s been any drastic change in the last few years adding, “In some cases, literally you're going to have to wait for some people to retire for a culture shift.”

After years of complaints and grievances, Vidovic filed a lawsuit against the department in 2015. The next day, she was fired.

In December 2017, Vidovic won her lawsuit. The jury found the city of Tampa guilty of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation when she complained.

10News reached out to the city of Tampa to see if they've made any changes since Vidovic's court verdict, but a city representative said they don't comment on ongoing litigation.

Just last week, the judge ordered that the city give Vidovic her job back. They have 60 days to reinstate her.

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