TAMPA — It took a legal battle lasting more than two years for Tanja Vidovic to return to her job as a Tampa firefighter in early April. But after only three months back at Tampa Fire Rescue, her future at the department is in doubt again.
Vidovic, who won a federal discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the department in December, is now accused of being untruthful and creating a hostile work environment, her husband Jared Vidovic told the Tampa Bay Times.
On Wednesday morning, at the start of a closed hearing into the charges, Jared Vidovic and the couple’s three young children gathered with a handful of friends outside Tampa Fire Rescue’s downtown headquarters carrying signs showing support for the firefighter.
City officials declined to comment on the nature of the charges against Vidovic. An investigative hearing was conducted, where department officials "ask questions and obtain answers," said human resources director Kimberly Crum.
"If they find her to be untruthful at that table they could fire her today," Jared Vidovic said. "That’s my understanding because that’s the way it happened last time."
But by the end of the day, she was told she could return to work at her station. The investigation is continuing, her husband said, but she was given no indication of when it will conclude.
During a mid-day break in the hearing, Vidovic emerged from Tampa Fire Rescue with labor lawyer Ryan Barack, wiping away tears as she hugged her family.
She declined to answer reporters’ questions, saying the department has placed her under a gag order until the investigation is closed.
In December, after a four-week trial, a jury awarded Vidovic $245,000 in damages, deciding she had proved two allegations in a federal lawsuit she filed against the city of Tampa: That she was discriminated against because she was pregnant and that the city retaliated against her when she complained.
She had been fired from Tampa Fire Rescue in March 2016, the day after she filed the federal lawsuit.
Vidovic also filed a complaint in 2015 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging in part that three captains asked her for sex and that the city retaliated against her after she complained about issues including the lack of female bathrooms at most station houses.
In February, a federal judge ordered the city to return Vidovic to her job.
But ever since she went back to work in April, Jared Vidovic said, officials have "continued without reason to write her up."
"It became obvious that she was targeted," he said. "There’s just a separate set of rules than there are for other people."
In April, a women’s Facebook group with 15,200 members called Surly Feminists for the Revolution urged Mayor Bob Buckhorn to choose a woman as he considered naming a replacement for retiring fire chief Tom Forward. Vidovic told the Times she, too, hoped a woman would be appointed.
The Facebook group cast the decision as a referendum on the discrimination and retaliation case brought by Vidovic.
Buckhorn named 32-year veteran Nick LoCicero as chief.
No matter the outcome of the investigation, Jared Vidovic said he’s proud of his wife’s fight to keep a job she loves.
Tanja Vidovic had worked in sales when the couple moved to Tampa 12 years ago. Her husband enrolled in the University of South Florida’s nursing program, and as he continued to pursue his career, his wife wanted to find a job with meaning and purpose, too, he said.
This year marks 10 years since Tampa Fire Rescue first hired Tanja Vidovic. Even now, Jared Vidovic said, his wife comes home from work happy, eager to share stories of how she helped people.
"I was hoping Tanja would come out and say, ‘Everything’s good, you can all go home,’ but we’ve been here before and we won’t give up now," said Jared Vidovic, now a registered nurse at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital.
"Tanya has a lot of passions and has always fought for what she believes in, and she believes that everybody should have those rights to work in a job they love. ... For her, it’s still worth it."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] Follow @adawsonwrites