City of Orlando to pay assistant fire chief almost $1 million to settle discrimination, sexual harassment lawsuit

ORLANDO, Fla. — A female assistant fire chief has reached a nearly $1 million settlement with the city of Orlando after filing a lawsuit against the city and the former fire chief for discrimination, sexual harassment and more.

In the lawsuit filed in December, Assistant Fire Chief Dawn Sumter accused the city and Williams of seven counts of wrongdoing, including gender discrimination and retaliation, sexual harassment and battery.

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The terms of the settlement include a $495,000 in settlement and $450,000 more over the lifetime of her pension, and she will retire on April 1.

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Sumter served with the Orlando Fire Department for 27 years.

During that time, she said she was overlooked and passed over for advancement, reporting less qualified male colleagues were promoted while she wasn’t.

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The settlement comes two years after Williams resigned following a report by Channel 9 investigative reporter Shannon Butler that a federal investigator determined that Williams sexually harassed, discriminated against and retaliated against Sumter, the sole female assistant fire chief on his staff.

The city of Orlando said it is still in the process of the settlement with Sumter, because she has seven days to change her mind. But sources told Butler that the deal is done.

Sumter’s lawyer released the following statement on the settlement:

“My client, a highly accomplished and nationally recognized Assistant Fire Chief within the Orlando Fire Department, was subjected to many years of discriminatory treatment, sexual harassment and continuous retaliation by her supervisors. She was denied numerous opportunities for career advancement based solely upon her gender. There was no meaningful response by the Department, in spite of multiple formal complaints over this time.

Through her courageous actions, she highlighted a longstanding culture of injustice against women in the Orlando Fire Department. Assistant Chief Sumter’s case garnered the attention of the United States Department of Justice, who have committed to monitoring the Department pursuant to a consent decree to be filed with the court. It is our hope that her efforts will result in more equitable treatment of women firefighters in the future.”

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The city of Orlando released the following statement on the settlement:

“As a City, we remain committed to driving a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity, and that promotes the representation and inclusiveness of women in our fire department.

As you know, since these allegations were brought forth in 2017, the city made it a priority to further ensure the women within the department not only had a voice, but the opportunity to grow and thrive within the department, ultimately leading to the creation of the OFD Inclusivity and Equity Action Plan.

To date, through the Action Plan, some of the new initiatives implemented in the last year include:

  • Improvements in the design of new fire stations, 9, 6, and 11, including individual crew bunk rooms, showers, and restrooms to accommodate and promote privacy in the workplace. This includes new lactation rooms for nursing mothers. Similar renovations will be implemented and retrofitted at other stations with private facilities for women, starting with Station 10.
  • Increased diversity in the first new hire classes
  • Class 0620 was the largest class for the Orlando Fire Department at 32 members. Of this class, 59% were of either Asian, Black, or Hispanic ethnicity. 12% were female. In 2019, statistics show that women accounted for only 4.6% of sworn personnel the fire service.
  • A civilian investigator was hired to handle internal affairs, with an office outside of OFD headquarters to maximize confidentiality.
  • 11 dedicated workgroups have been established to increase representation of diversity and create further transparency within the department in providing input on critical department operations, including policy reform, training, community outreach and internal communication.

While we’ve made great strides, we know this important work is not done and we must continue to evolve and improve our practices, policies and the overall culture within the Orlando Fire Department.

Pending final agreement, through this 18-month process, we look forward to working together with Department of Justice to continue to ensure the Orlando Fire Department is a place where everyone is equally valued, appreciated and protected.”

Read previous coverage below:

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.