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Retired fire captain denies sexually harassing employee who sued Tampa

Former Tampa Fire Rescue firefighter Tanja Vidovic stands outside the federal courthouse in Tampa during her discrimination lawsuit against the City of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON   |   Times]
Former Tampa Fire Rescue firefighter Tanja Vidovic stands outside the federal courthouse in Tampa during her discrimination lawsuit against the City of Tampa. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
Published Nov. 30, 2017

TAMPA — A Tampa Fire Rescue captain investigated for harassing the female firefighter suing the city for discrimination and retaliation said Thursday that he never asked her for sex — and instead countered that she was the one who made inappropriate comments.

Chris Shepherd was one of four witnesses called by the city of Tampa during the defense's first day presenting its side of the case in U.S. District Court. Shepherd told the seven-person jury that he never made any inappropriate comments to Tanja Vidovic, whom he supervised while she was stationed with him.

Vidovic named Shepherd in an EEOC complaint she filed while working at Tampa Fire Rescue, saying the captain asked her for sex during a run in 2013, in addition to making other sexual comments. The city's human resources department investigated Vidovic's claim in 2015 and cleared Shepherd.

Shepherd told the jury Thursday that it was actually Vidovic who made inappropriate comments during the run, though the example he gave was not sexual in nature: She said if he got fired, she would get his pension.

"It kind of shocked me," he said. "We got back to the station and I told her, 'Look, you don't need to be texting or calling me anymore.'?"

Both Shepherd and Vidovic have their own versions of what was said during that run. Regardless of what was said, Vidovic said Shepherd's attitude toward her turned negative after the run.

Her attorney, Stanley Padgett, questioned Shepherd about a series of evaluations he gave Vidovic as her captain. In 2012, Shepherd gave Vidovic a score of 46, which he characterized as a good evaluation. But in 2013, Shepherd filled out and signed two transfer evaluations for Vidovic, each of which had a substantially lower score, rating her lower in almost every category. One of those evaluations was voided.

"This is in the middle of all the trouble I was having," Shepherd said.

The evaluations were part of a transfer Vidovic was requesting to another station. Padgett showed the court a memo Vidovic wrote saying Shepherd threatened to give her a negative transfer evaluation and also to call Mayor Bob Buckhorn and try to get her fired.

Shepherd denied both of those claims, but could not answer why he filled out two negative evaluations for her.

"It's voided," he said. "It means nothing."

Defense attorney Tom Gonzalez called as witnesses two of Vidovic's midwives who were responsible for signing Tampa Fire Rescue medical forms clearing her to work on scenes while pregnant.

Vidovic was fired in 2016 after the personnel chief said she lied about one of her midwife appointments.

Vidovic said she did attend the appointment and did fill out the necessary paperwork. Berenice Rowell, who signed the form, testified Thursday that she was not the assigned midwife for Vidovic's appointment and did not remember signing the form. However, Rowell said it is not unusual for multiple midwives to see a patient during an appointment.

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Bill Mann, a former union representative, testified that the medical form must be filled out and turned in for all doctor appointments.

Padgett showed the courtroom a copy of the department's rules and regulations that said, "All off-duty, non-line of duty injuries or illnesses which require the service of a physician or dentist shall require a written release from the physician."

Mann said that pregnancy is neither an illness nor an injury and said he was not aware of any regulation requiring a pregnant woman to fill out the medical form.

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

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