Orlando fire inspector sues city, alleges discrimination based on sexual orientation

Theodore Washington claims city overlooked him for promotion because he is gay

An Orlando firefighter is suing the city, claiming he was harassed and discriminated against because he is gay, according to the lawsuit.

ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando firefighter is suing the city, claiming he was harassed and discriminated against because he is gay, according to the lawsuit.

Theodore Washington began his employment with the city as a fire inspector in 2019, according to the court filing. The lawsuit states that the issues arose within days of his employment.

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Washington’s attorney stated that the man had a photo of his boyfriend at his desk. On the third day of his employment, a deputy fire marshal inquired whether the photo was of Washington’s brother. The lawsuit alleges that the co-worker looked at him with disgust and told him to take down the photograph after Washington informed the deputy fire marshal it was of his boyfriend.

According to the department, there is no policy for personal items in the workplace.

On another occasion, Washington claims to have been told to “get those (expletive) beaters away from the food and go wash your hands” by a fellow inspector during a work function, according to the lawsuit. The suit claims the deputy marshal heard this comment but did nothing.

Washington claims similar incidents involving homophobic language, slurs and harassment took place over the next three years.

The most documented case of harassment, according to the lawsuit, happened in March when Washington was questioned about his “work duties and ability to due (SIC) work duties.” The lawsuit claims Washington was, at that time, covering three different fire stations, as the city was short-staffed, but still managed to deliver the second most inspections in his department.

In addition to the harassment, the lawsuit claims Washington was overlooked for promotion. The suit said that superiors informed Washington that he required five years of experience before consideration for the promotion and stated that his previous experience in other cities did not count.

Washington told the fire marshal that he believed he had sufficient experience for the promotion and that he was considering taking his complaint to the union, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges the fire marshal stated that the union better leave her alone or it would get ugly. Records show this accused interaction took place in March 2021.

In June 2021, according to the lawsuit, the fire marshal told Washington that management was looking for an excuse to fire him and that she was “locked and loaded.”

The Orlando Fire Department contacted News 6 in a statement regarding the allegations:

“The Orlando Fire Department does not accept discrimination of any kind and remains committed to driving a culture that embraces inclusion and diversity, as well as continues to ensure our department is a place where everyone is equally valued, appreciated and protected.”

Due to pending litigation, OFD declined to provide further comment.

The lawsuit seeks damages such as front pay in lieu of the promotion Washington sought, back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, as well as attorney and court fees.

The lawsuit also seeks an injunction against any future discrimination against someone for their sexual orientation.

You can read the entire lawsuit below:

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.