Orlando Fire Department Chief Rod Williams resigned Thursday afternoon. A federal investigation determined that Williams sexually harassed, discriminated against and retaliated against the sole female assistant fire chief on his staff. Assistant Fire Chief Dawn Sumter filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017.
Harassment in the workplace can turn the environment hostile. A hostile work environment occurs when someone’s behavior, actions, or communication make it impossible to effectively do a job. Threatening and intimidating behavior, harassment, and interference with an employee’s performance are types of hostile conduct. Not all offenses are actionable. However, a knowledgeable employment law attorney can help you determine if a claim is possible. In cases of hostile work environments, harassment doesn’t directly result in discipline or lost opportunities. However, it does make it difficult for the victim to work because of constant ridicule, belittling comments, teasing, and sexual come-ons. Also, this harassment could be more subtle. For example, a manager may treat workers of a certain ethnicity better than other workers. This could be if a Jewish employee hears Holocaust jokes or forced to be a bookkeeper due to stereotypes.
Orlando Fire Chief Resigns
Chief Roderick Williams sent his letter of resignation to Mayor Buddy Dyer Thursday afternoon. In his resignation letter, Williams said he denied all allegations against him but felt it best to resign to keep the focus on the department itself rather than his leadership. The sexual harassment accusations came last year. He’s been with the fire department for 23 years and has been chief since 2015.
The EEOC said its investigation determined evidence supporting Sumter’s allegations. She said Williams subjected her to discriminatory harassment, conduct, and differential treatment by both Deputy Chiefs. Williams also subjected her to “continuous retaliatory conduct” and sexual harassment, the EEOC said.
The city has not said whether the two deputy chiefs referenced in the investigation will remain in their current positions.
Sexual Harassment Probe
Sumter’s allegations started the commission’s probe. She accused the Fire Chief of treating her differently than her male counterparts and passed up for promotions based on her gender. She also accused Williams of inappropriately hugging her on multiple occasions. One time she could feel the Chief’s arousal. Williams also made comments to her about her body and wished she was his. The EEOC investigated after the city’s completed a faulty and biased one. The city said there wasn’t enough evidence to support Sumter’s claims. Yet, Chief Williams still resigned.
Hostile Work Environment Attorney
If you have experienced sexual harassment in any form in the workplace, you should contact a qualified employment attorney as soon as possible. If the harassment has not stopped after making a formal complaint with your employer, consulting a harassment lawyer is your best option. Your attorney will be able to provide further guidance, help you file a claim with the EEOC, and help you build a case that will put an end to what you have experienced.