Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Did wronged female firefighter assume Tampa Fire would change its good old boy ways? Perish the thought.

Let’s be honest. The latest travails of the much beleaguered Tampa firefighter Tanja Vidovic are largely of her own making. Cruel, perhaps. But true.

You might recall it was Vidovic who waged a long, bitter legal battle in federal court with Tampa Fire Rescue, accusing the department, and by extension the city of Tampa, of engaging in workplace discrimination and retaliation against her.

Vidovic prevailed, winning $245,000 damages after a jury agreed the firefighter had been discriminated against when she became pregnant and retaliated against her after she filed a complaint over her treatment.

RELATED COVERAGE Tanja Vidovic won her job back in court. Now she could face new disciplinary action

After the trial, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ordered the city to reinstate Vidovic to her old job. That was in April. But it didn’t take long for her to find herself getting sideways with her bosses.

Days ago Vidovic was ordered by the fire chief himself, Nick LoCicero, to appear before a department star chamber to answer to allegations she had created a hostile work environment and had been untruthful.

The department also imposed a gag order on Vidovic, preventing her from publicly telling her side of the story.

But let’s be honest here. Vidovic is guilty, guilty, guilty as sin.

Perhaps Vidovic was naive enough to think she could simply waltz back into her old job of serving the public and saving lives and all would be forgiven.

Perhaps she was Pollyannish enough to believe she could spend two years in a court fight exposing Tampa Fire Rescue as a good ol’ boys club that treated female colleagues as cute window dressing and the very people she had called out as misogynist oafs would welcome her back with air kisses and pat on the back for a job well done.

And perhaps Vidovic was gullible enough to expect her court victory might at least provide some protection against future mistreatment.

But she was wrong.

You better believe Vidovic has created a hostile work environment. Her mere presence in the fire house is a constant reminder of the embarrassment she revealed within Tampa Fire Rescue.

So you sort of have to suspect if Vidovic denied she had created a hostile work environment by simply showing up for work, within the Kafkaesque confines of Tampa Fire Rescue, that would certainly qualify as a boldfaced lie. Ergo, untruthfulness.

Adding to the kangaroo court-like proceedings is the fact that the very people now sitting in judgment over Vidovic — who have the power to fire her, ruin her career and deny her a pension — are the very hierarchy she was suing in federal court just a few short months ago.

Do you think there just might be a pinch of conflict of interest here?

And that brings us, sadly again, to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who sided with Tampa Fire Rescue during the Vidovic lawsuit and practically had to be slapped upside the head to be persuaded to drop an appeal of the jury verdict the city was sure to lose.

From day one of the Vidovic saga, Buckhorn could have ordered the city to settle with the firefighter. He could have implemented sweeping reforms of the department to protect its female employees from harassment and discrimination. But he didn’t.

Here’s a tea leaf to watch. By the end of this month, the Democrats will have selected their gubernatorial nominee. The nominee will need a running mate. And being the mayor of Tampa, which is the fulcrum of the key I-4 corridor mother lode of votes, would be a major asset to anyone aspiring to become governor.

But what candidate for governor, especially in this #MeToo era, would tap a running mate who has stood by and allowed a female firefighter to be mistreated by the department’s alleged leadership — for a second time, no less?

It’s always worth noting that Buckhorn has been a very fine mayor for the city. He’s a good man, too. But when it comes to the egregious maltreatment of Tanja Vidovic, Hizzoner has cultivated a tin ear.

As a result Vidovic could lose her career. Buckhorn, too.

 
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