Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighter’s case

Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times  
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan updates the media on the fourth Seminole Heights murder while Mayor Bob Buckhorn looks on during a press conference at the Tampa Police Department headquarters in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
Gabriella Angotti-Jones | Times Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan updates the media on the fourth Seminole Heights murder while Mayor Bob Buckhorn looks on during a press conference at the Tampa Police Department headquarters in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
Published February 15 2018
Updated February 16 2018

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, it’s time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mistakes and do right by this firefighter, taxpayers and the city’s public image.

Vidovic first spoke out in 2015 about the problems that women face at Tampa Fire Rescue. She filed suit in March 2016 and was fired the next day. After a trial in November, a federal jury found that the city discriminated against Vidovic because she was pregnant and retaliated against her for complaining. The jury in December awarded her $245,000 in damages. Having had its day in court and lost, the city should have respected the verdict and moved on.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended Tampa Fire Rescue this week and vowed to appeal. That was exactly the wrong tack, legally and morally, and it could open taxpayers to even further financial exposure in a case that already has cost the two sides about $1 million in legal fees.

Shortly after Buckhorn’s remarks, U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich ruled that the former firefighter should be reinstated. That’s a pathway for the mayor to make the most face-saving exit from this experience possible, and he should take it. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Caitlin Johnston reported, the judge’s order could save the city up to $2 million in additional damages; Vidovik’s attorney had asked for as much as $712,404 in lieu of reclaiming her job and more than $1 million in pension benefits. Tampa no longer has to pay either. Waiving an appeal also begins the process for winding down the legal costs, which will be fought over later.

Kovachevich’s ruling is fair and sensible. She ruled against Vidovic’s request to remove some disciplinary records from her file and to impose policy changes at Tampa Fire Rescue, which the judge correctly noted are better left to the city’s discretion. The jury verdict and the judge’s order sent the city a message about its behavior, and it shouldn’t take prolonging this litigation any further for the city to accept it and move on.

In his public appearances over the years, Buckhorn has often talked about building a vibrant and inclusive culture in Tampa that would be exciting enough to persuade his daughters to build their careers here. He should end this case in a manner befitting both a mayor and a dad.

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