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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Fired Tampa firefighter's sex discrimination case unfolds in federal court

TAMPA — Did a pregnant, female firefighter face sexual discrimination at Tampa Fire Rescue?

A federal jury began hearing evidence Tuesday in Tanja Vidovic's lawsuit against the city of Tampa, alleging just that.

Vidovic was one of several women who voiced concerns in 2015 over sexual harassment, lack of separate bathroom and changing facilities for women, being passed over for promotion and a general culture of discrimination.

"You're supposed to be judged by your ability, not on your gender or whether you're pregnant or if you speak up," her attorney, Wendolyn Busch, told a four-women, three man jury in opening statements.

Vidovic, who was hired in 2008, repeatedly spoke out about her treatment as a woman in the department, especially while she was pregnant. Vidovic said in depositions that she was forced to pump breast milk in a hazardous material room and was not allowed to work her typical shift, despite a doctor saying she was cleared to do so.

She filed a complaint with the EEOC and was later passed over for promotions, she said, despite testing well and ranking above other men on the promotion list.

When conditions did not improve, Vidovic, through a lawyer, informed the city of her intent to file a lawsuit. She was then fired in March 2016.

The city said she was fired for untruthfulness, and that was the theme of its defense Tuesday.

Attorney Thomas Gonzalez spent much of his nearly 45-minute opening outlining times Vidovic had been inconsistent in her statements.

He said she lied about a medical form required of all firefighters who visit a doctor, even a dentist. He said Vidovic didn't supply the form.

"The whole issue was about fitness for duty," he said.

Busch said Vidovic had twice passed a "fit for duty" test but was nonetheless criticized for working full duty while pregnant.

The city disputes that.

Gonzalez also said that Vidovic's concerns about bathroom privacy on the job were shared by both men and women, so it wasn't a gender issue.

"This a claim of discrimination based on sex," he told the jury. "She is going to need to prove she was treated differently."

The jury will hear from a long list of witnesses, including Fire Chief Tom Forward.

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