Judge: PBCFR captain’s lawsuit can continue

Judge: PBCFR captain’s lawsuit can continue

It’s the lawsuit that sparked a FOX 29 investigation and led to the removal of three top chiefs at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

On Tuesday, a judge decided Captain Amanda Vomero's harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Palm Beach County will continue.

Parties for both sides were in court Tuesday morning because the county was trying to get the lawsuit dismissed.

In her lawsuit, Captain Amanda Vomero claims that beginning in 2013, she endured sexual harassment and discrimination on a regular basis from multiple chiefs at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

Vomero goes on to claim in her lawsuit that most of the sexual harassment and discrimination came at the hands of a fire chief, Chief Chris Hoch. According to Vomero, "(The chief) would make her the brunt of most of his jokes," in management meetings.

Vomero also says she was "constantly subjected to crude and discriminatory comments by this particular chief," even threatening to replace her with his girlfriend. Then, Vomero claims, the chief began making comments about how tight her pants were. She says when she went to another chief, the top chief at the time Chief Jeff Collins for help. She claims he told her she "was blowing it out of proportion, and that it was just 'good humor, firehouse fun.'"

Shortly after that, Vomero claims Chief Hoch began to spread a rumor about Vomero and another fire chief, being in a relationship. From there, the lawsuit contains graphic and sexual language. Vomero says she took an extended leave in 2016 because the department refused to do anything to protect her. When she returned to work, Vomero says the department barred her from working on programs and boards she had before.

A human resources investigation, started by some of Vomero's claims, found "sexually oriented rumors are commonplace within the county's fire-rescue department," and ranking officers are the ones responsible for circulating the rumors.

Earlier this year, the county administrator fired Chief Hoch and Chief Collins, and forced Chief Thomas Tolbert to resign. According to sources, it was because of their roles in the harassment.

Vomero's lawyer Sid Garcia applauded those moves but said Vomero still deserves compensation.

"You can't unring a bell and she was subjected to a lot of unnecessary and abusive conduct by people that were abusing their power and authority. We're looking for whatever the jury thinks it's fair, given what she experienced for many years. The fact that finally corrective action was taken, does not undo the harm she suffered," said Garcia.

The county was trying to say some of Vomero's claims weren't specific enough, failing to "state a cause of action" for her retaliation and harassment claims, but the judge ultimately denied their motion to dismiss.

The next court date has not been set.