Woman wins discrimination suit against Tampa Fire Rescue

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A former Tampa firefighter won a major discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the city of Tampa and said Thursday she hopes her victory will create change within Tampa Fire Rescue.

Last week, a jury awarded Tanja Vidovic $245,000 in damages after she sued the city, claiming she was the victim of repeated discrimination and harassment during her seven and a half years with the fire department.

"It was just a big sigh of relief to have those seven strangers [on the jury] that I didn't know, when they were presented with the facts of what happened and people's sides of the stories they were able to come to the conclusion that, yes, it happened. There was pregnancy discrimination and I was retaliated for it," Vidovic told FOX 13, during her first sit-down interview since the conclusion of her federal case.

Vidovic, 36, said she joined Tampa Fire Rescue because she wanted a noble career in which she could work with the community every day. She thought the job seemed like a perfect fit.

The now-former firefighter told FOX 13 her time as a firefighter, however, became marred with sexist remarks, come-ons by a superior and retaliation when she complained.

Vidovic said her breaking point came during her pregnancy in 2015.

"They didn't want to work with a pregnant firefighter," she said. "There was a firefighter who wrote a memo that he didn't want to work a pregnant firefighter and he wanted to be sent out of the station every time I was working there. There was another firefighter who compared breast milk to HAZMAT decontamination materials."

In her last performance evaluation, one of her superiors wrote a comment that she and her lawyers point to as proof her employers gave her a poor review because she was pregnant.

"Vidovic appears to have no concern for the safety of herself or the safety of her newborn child as she continues to work full duty as a firefighter," the supervisor wrote, commenting on Vidovic's desire to work full time during her pregnancy.

Vidovic filed a lawsuit in March 2016 and a day later was fired. She said her victory in court more than a year later was emotional.

"I think that it was a big moment for women in the fire department too because so often women in the fire department, they don't complain because they don't want to be retaliated against and there needs to be better support for women who are getting harassed," Vidovic said.

"Sometimes you get in a situation where there is just rampant harassment and discrimination and I think that's what happened here," added Wendy Busch, Vidovic's attorney. "I think there are a lot of women out there who don't feel like they can come forward or they assess the risk and say it's just not worth it."

A spokesperson for the city declined to comment, as the city now has 30 days to file an appeal.

The conclusion of the case comes at the height of "Me Too" movement, in which women around the world are sharing their stories of workplace harassment and discrimination.

Vidovic hopes her victory encourages more women to come forward in all industries.

"The women who come forward and put their names out there with the stories, those are some brave women who understand the repercussions but see the need for this to be addressed and for us as a society to get past that," she said.

As for her career, Vidovic is now working for the parks department in Safety Harbor. A judge can order the fire department to rehire her. She said, if that happens, she would take her job back.