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Press Release

Justice Department Settles Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Orlando, Florida Fire Department

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced today that it has reached a settlement, through a consent decree, with the City of Orlando resolving allegations that the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it discriminated and retaliated against Dawn Sumter, a female Assistant Fire Chief with the Orlando Fire Department (“Fire Department”).

Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin and retaliation for engaging in activities protected by Title VII, such as complaining about discrimination. The complaint and consent decree, filed in a federal district court in Orlando, resolve allegations that Assistant Chief Sumter was sexually harassed by the former fire chief and then retaliated against by Fire Department leadership for complaining about the discrimination and harassment that she faced. 

 “Sexual harassment in the workplace is intolerable under any circumstance and is particularly pernicious where the victim is a public servant engaged in protecting fellow members of the community,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The type of sexual harassment and retaliation allegedly suffered by the assistant fire chief in this case prevents women who work in jobs historically dominated by men from protecting and serving the public on an equal basis. This consent decree reflects the Civil Rights Division’s commitment to ensuring that all workers are entitled to a workplace free from sexual harassment and that no person should fear retaliation for seeking help when harassed.” 

“Protecting the civil rights of our citizens, including public sector employees, remains a paramount priority for the Middle District of Florida,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Karin Hoppmann for the Middle District of Florida. “Sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace will not be tolerated and the type of discrimination suffered by Assistant Chief Sumter can only be prevented when employers unequivocally promote a workplace free from discrimination.”

The United States’ complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleges that Assistant Chief Sumter’s immediate supervisor, the former fire chief, regularly subjected her to sexual harassment in the workplace. After Ms. Sumter filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaining about discrimination, the Fire Department began to retaliate against her, according to the complaint filed today. Fire Department leadership, including the former chief and deputy chiefs, took several harassing, retaliatory actions designed to derail Ms. Sumter’s career and prohibit her from advancement within the Fire Department because of her discrimination complaint. 

Under the terms of the consent decree, the City of Orlando will develop and submit to the United States for approval its discrimination and retaliation policies, complaint investigation procedures, and trainings that will be used at the Fire Department.  The consent decree further requires the city to provide training for all Fire Department employees on these policies and provides for future annual training on these subjects. The city will also pay Ms. Sumter $251,500 in compensatory damages and $182,640 in attorney’s fees to her private counsel. 

The EEOC received a charge of sex discrimination and an amended charge of retaliation filed by Ms. Sumter. The EEOC investigated the matter and found reasonable cause to believe that the Fire Department discriminated against and retaliated against its employee. After unsuccessful conciliation efforts, the EEOC referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Today’s agreement is part of the Civil Rights Division’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative announced in February 2018. The Initiative is aimed at eradicating sexual harassment in state and local government workplaces. It focuses on litigation, outreach, and development of effective remedial measures to address and prevent future sex discrimination and harassment.

The Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section brought this case in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. The case was brought by Employment Litigation Section Attorneys Brian McEntire and Ejaz Baluch Jr. and Assistant U.S. Attorney Yohance Pettis of the Middle District of Florida.

The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section

Updated April 1, 2021

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Topic
Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 21-278