The Orlando Fire Department and an assistant fire chief recently agreed to a $1 million lawsuit settlement.
Dawn Sumter, an assistant fire chief with the Orlando Fire Department, recently agreed to a settlement with the city of Orlando for almost $1 million. Sumter originally filed the suit in December over allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment, among other things.
According to the lawsuit, Sumter accused the city and Williams of “seven counts of wrongdoing, including gender discrimination and retaliation, sexual harassment and battery.” As part of the agreement, Sumter will receive $495,000 in a settlement and $450,000 over the “lifetime of her pension.” She plans to retire on April 1 after serving with the fire department for 27 years. During her years of service, Sumter said she was “overlooked and passed over for advancement, reporting less qualified male colleagues were promoted while she wasn’t.”
In response to the settlement announcement, Sumter’s lawyer issued the following statement:
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.”
The city of Orlando also chimed in and released the following statement:
“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.”