9 Investigates

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

ORLANDO, Fla. — A federal investigator said Wednesday that the Orlando Fire Department chief sexually harassed an assistant fire chief, discriminated against her and retaliated against her.

Sources told 9 Investigates' Shannon Butler that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did not say the fire chief had to be fired, because that is not the agency's job.

There are now questions about what the EEOC said, what the city of Orlando will do and what will happen to the fire department's administration.


Assistant Fire Chief Dawn Sumter told the city of Orlando that she was sexually harassed by her boss.

Sources told Butler the EEOC agreed, going against a city investigator who said that it could not be proven that anything happened.

"Fire Chief Williams repeatedly rubbed, hugged and pressed his body against mine," Sumter said in a complaint last year. "There were many times I could feel he was aroused."

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

Chief Rod Williams denied Sumter's claims, and an outside investigator cleared him of wrongdoing.

After two years of investigating the claim, the federal investigator found that the chief and two deputy fire chiefs also threatened and discriminated against Sumter and that employees, including the director of the city's human resources department, need more training when it comes to handling such claims, sources told 9 Investigates.

The city of Orlando provided 9 Investigates with the following statement Thursday:

"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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