9 Investigates

Orlando fire chief resigns after WFTV report about sexual harassment investigation

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Fire Department Chief Rod Williams resigned Thursday afternoon, one day after 9 Investigates reported that a federal investigator determined last week that Williams sexually harassed, discriminated against and retaliated against the sole female assistant fire chief on his staff. Click here to watch the report.

Assistant Fire Chief Dawn Sumter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017.

"Fire Chief Williams repeatedly rubbed, hugged and pressed his body against mine," she said. "There were many times I could feel he was aroused."


Sumter said she was also passed over for a promotion and was retaliated against by being demoted.

Williams denied Sumter's claims, and the city of Orlando hired an outside investigator, who determined he was clear of any wrongdoing.

Williams remained on the job while the city investigated Sumter's claims.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on Thursday afternoon acknowledged Williams' resignation, but he would not say if he would have fired Williams had he not resigned.

"I'm not going to speculate on that," he said. "The fire chief has resigned."

Read: Sources: Investigator says Orlando fire chief sexually harassed, retaliated against assistant chief

The city described the federal investigation as inadequate, and the EEOC said the city's investigation was "faulty and biased."

"The findings that we had in a very thorough report actually had cleared him," Dyer said. "The EEOC report came to a different conclusion, and we're not going to question that. We're just going to move forward."

Before Williams resigned, the Orlando firefighters union told 9 Investigates that it would not stand behind him.

After Williams resigned, Ron Glass, president of the Orlando Professional Firefighters union, provided 9 Investigates with the following statement:

"The Orlando Professional Fire Fighters Local 1365 has been made aware of the decision by Fire Chief Roderick Williams to retire due to the findings of the EEOC investigations. Local 1365 sincerely appreciates Mayor Buddy Dyer’s strong leadership during this tumultuous time. We look forward to working with Mayor Dyer and his administration to find a chief that provides members of Local 1365 with the professional and inclusive leadership they deserve."

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer discusses Williams' resignation:

The EEOC investigation found that two deputy fire chiefs also threatened and discriminated against Sumter. It is unclear what will happen to them.

The investigation also determined that employees, including the director of the city's human resources department, need more training when it comes to handling such claims.

"I think that we need to make some changes in our fire department," Dyer said Thursday.

The city said acting chief administrative officer Kevin Edmonds will oversee operations at the fire department as the search for a new chief begins.

The city provided 9 Investigates with the following statement before Williams resigned:

"One of our core values at the city of Orlando is to ensure that everyone who works here is treated with dignity and respected in the workplace. We are disappointed the EEOC has found this didn't occur within the Orlando Fire Department in this particular case.

"When the city became aware of the complaint made by a female firefighter, we immediately engaged an experienced, independent employment lawyer to investigate. After conducting more than 25 interviews, including with the complainant and Chief Williams, the investigator concluded 'I am unable to substantiate the allegations made ... Moreover, as explained in this report, even if these incidents occurred, they are not sufficient to constitute a violation of Title VII or the Florida Civil Rights Act.'

"While it is true that the EEOC’s determinations are inconsistent with the city’s third-party investigation, and that the EEOC investigation was limited, it is also true that we are committed to identifying challenges, acting on solutions and improving the Orlando Fire Department as a place for women to work, prosper and thrive.

"We hold our Orlando firefighters to the highest professional standards and refuse to accept the male-dominated culture that exists in firehouses across the country. To ensure the women within the department have a voice and city management has an opportunity to hear the issues directly, we’ve held multiple meetings with the highest level of administration including Mayor Dyer and an outside facilitator at a one-day summit.

"These exchanges have led to prioritizing changes in the areas of facilities, policies, training and recruitment. Over the last six months, the following has occurred:  
•    Conducted inclusiveness training for fire leadership.
•    Revised the anti-harassment policy with the involvement of female firefighters.
•    Transferred a female district chief to the training division to implement ongoing inclusiveness training and further assist in the professional development of females and other firefighters.   
•    Made physical changes at fire stations to ensure women have private, secure areas.
•    Creating both video and in-person, anti-harassment and discrimination training for the entire fire department.
•    Consistent, ongoing anti-harassment training for all firefighters.

"Additionally, Mayor Dyer has directed his deputy chief of staff, Heather Fagan, and public safety advisor, Dave Arnott, to convene a task force to expeditiously develop benchmarks and strategies for increasing the recruitment of women in the fire department and to develop and implement professional standards policies that encourage a more diverse and welcoming environment. This task force will:
•    Seek to understand internal and external barriers to hiring.
•    Incorporate external expert advice on recruiting women.
•    Ensure ongoing candid, open and safe conversations with OFD women.
•    Identify strategies for increasing the role of females in fire management.
•    Develop objective and accountable standards for recruitment and training.

"We remain committed to driving a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity and to setting the standard for representation of women in the fire department. We understand that changing the male-centric culture that exists in firehouses across the country will not be easy, but with consistent focus and commitment, we can make changes. We want Orlando to be the leader in equality for women within the fire department, throughout our city government and throughout our entire community."

Watch Channel 9 Eyewitness News for updates to this developing story.

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