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Men testify they were uncomfortable working with pregnant firefighter

The men who worked with the female firefighter suing the City of Tampa for discrimination testified in court Tuesday they were uncomfortable working with her and saw her performance drop during her pregnancy. Tampa Fire Rescue Firefighter Andre Williams, who was stationed with Tanja Vidovic for about two years, said that prior to her pregnancy he would vouch for her abilities as a firefighter.
Published Dec. 6, 2017

TAMPA — The men who worked with the female firefighter suing the City of Tampa for discrimination testified in court Tuesday they were uncomfortable working with her and saw her performance drop during her pregnancy.

Tampa Fire Rescue Firefighter Andre Williams, who was stationed with Tanja Vidovic for about two years, said that prior to her pregnancy he would vouch for her abilities as a fire fighter.

"She was a strong, hard worker," Williams told the seven-person jury in U.S. District Court.

But when she continued her full duties as a firefighter through most of her third pregnancy in 2015, Williams said he no longer felt comfortable working at that station. He said he repeatedly asked to be sent to other stations.

Because of the inherent risks of the job, he said it was important to feel like other firefighters cared about his life and had his back. But Williams said he didn't feel like Vidovic could physically come to his aid at that late stage in her pregnancy. By choosing to work, he thought she didn't care about her safety, or the safety of their crew.

"Our lives depend on our captain, our driver and our firefighter," Williams said. "I know that the firefighter I was working with at the time could not perform her duties."

Williams said Vidovic often took on the less intense roles on the job, such as carrying medical equipment instead of lifting a patient, and that she was unable to lift the 5-gallon foam buckets that are required at some scenes.

Vidovic's captain, David Gillen, and district chief, Mark Bogush, also testified that her crew had concerns about safety issues while she worked during the third trimester of her pregnancy. The captain asked the district chief to assign an additional firefighter to fill-in while Vidovic was working.

"He told me he needed the forth firefighter because of her condition and she couldn't perform all the duties as she should," Bogush said.

Because of those concerns, Vidovic was ordered on Nov. 6, 2015, to take a "fit for duty" test — a rare test in the department when there is concern that a firefighter isn't performing their duties.

Dr. Kathleen Jenkins performed that test, and testified Tuesday that she twice cleared Vidovic to return to full duty, on Nov. 6 and again on Nov. 12.

Both Gillen and Bogush said they were not aware of any time that Vidovic was counseled or written up for being unable to fulfill her duties. Gillen said that he never saw any indication that she was struggling to do her job.

All three of her coworkers also testified that Vidovic had issues interacting with other firefighters at the station, especially when it came to using the main bathroom shared by men and women. Vidovic and other female firefighters spoke out about the lack of women's restrooms in most city fire stations in 2015.

Vidovic had asked several times that a women's bathroom be added, or that a door be installed to separate the locker room from the showers. She was counseled in 2015 for walking into the bathroom when three male firefighters, including Williams, were in the locker room.

The court also heard testimony from human resources employee Kimberly Marple, who interacted with Vidovic many times over the past several years. Marple said she fielded a large number of Vidovic's emails, calls and reports, and was responsible for the city's response to Vidovic's 2015 federal complaint of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Marple said that Vidovic specifically instructed her in 2013 not to share information she provided about a captain requesting sex from her, saying she did not want to report it. Vidovic included that incident in her 2015 complaint, saying human resources never did anything about it or her other claims.

The trial, now in its fourth week, resumes Wednesday at 10 a.m. Both sides are expected to give closing arguments.

The city's attorney, Tom Gonzalez, filed a motion for a mistrial earlier this week, saying time limits put in place by the court impeded the ability of the defense to present its case.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

Women face multiple hurdles within Tampa Fire Rescue (April 6, 2015)

Tampa female firefighter fired after filing harassment lawsuit (April 7, 2016)

Witness in lawsuit tells of inconsistent treatment of Tampa female firefighter (Nov. 15, 2017)

Tampa Fire Rescue says pregnant firefighter insisted on working in the field much longer than others (Nov. 16, 2017)

Jurors hear from firefighter who filed sex discrimination case (Nov. 21, 2017)

City attorney grills ex-Tampa firefighter in discrimination trial (Nov. 28, 2017)

Retired fire captain denies sexually harassing employee who sued Tampa (Nov. 30, 2017)

Tampa fire chief testifies in gender discrimination trial (Dec. 4, 2017)

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