The complaints, spanning a four-year period, have led to an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice into the fire department's employment policies and practices.
One former Davie firefighter says he was constantly called "Jew Boy" by fellow firefighters, court records show.
A female firefighter says she's been called "ho" and "heifer." Another says she was not allowed to go on light duty until the second trimester of her pregnancy, despite a doctor's note. She helped fight a fire on Nov. 16, 2009, and had a miscarriage eight days later -- just 17 days before she was to start light duty.
Davie officials, through town spokesman Phillip Holste, deny the claims.
Fire Chief Joe Montopoli said "no comment" when queried about the allegations.
The number and severity of the allegations point to a "culture of discrimination" within the fire department, said Bob Jarvis, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
"It certainly suggests there is something more going on than the routine complaint," Jarvis said. "And I'm sure that's why DOJ got involved. The Davie Fire Department has a lot of explaining to do, because there are enough people complaining that this is not an isolated incident."
It's not the first time Davie's fire department has come under scrutiny. In 1999, the town's fire union accused a deputy chief of making sexist and racist comments on the job. He was fired, and the town's fire chief was demoted for ignoring the misconduct.
Montopoli has been chief since August 2007.
Today, 12 of the town's 121 firefighters are women. The number is not unusual in a field dominated by men, experts say.
Under the microscope
In November, investigators with the Department of Justice arrived in Davie from Washington to interview members of the fire department. They have not yet completed their investigation, Holste said.
Town officials took the visit in stride.
"It's not unusual," Stacey Hipsman, who joined the town in October as human resources director, said at the time. "When they have a certain number of [EEOC] complaints, it would not be unusual to have a look-see."
In March, the Justice Department issued the town a warning saying its policy pertaining to pregnant firefighters violated federal law, and urged Davie to make revisions, Holste said.
Under the current policy, the town lets firefighters injured on the job work light-duty assignments, but does not do the same for pregnant firefighters until their second trimester. In their EEOC complaints, the town's female firefighters said the policy is discriminatory.
"The town of Davie does not believe it has treated its female firefighters any different than its male firefighters," Holste said. "However, the DOJ has alleged that the town of Davie Fire Department's maternity leave/pregnancy policy violates Title VII" of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by treating pregnant firefighters differently from their male colleagues.
The town will discontinue the policy and provide pregnant firefighters the benefits allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Holste said. The policy change will take effect within the next 60 days.
Davie also plans to provide on-site training to all town employees to make sure they know what behaviors are prohibited in the workplace, Holste said.
'Culture of retaliation'
Tales of discrimination, harassment and retaliation are detailed in court documents relating to a federal lawsuit filed by former fire lieutenant Larry Pasko, accusing the town of gender discrimination.
On May 17, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra denied the town's motion to dismiss Pasko's lawsuit. The trial is set for later this year.
Linda Stokoe, a fire inspector for Davie until her termination in August 2009, has filed a second discrimination lawsuit against the town in Broward County Circuit Court.
Stokoe says she was subjected to gender discrimination, a hostile workplace, harassment and retaliation during her four years as the town's only female fire inspector.
Both Pasko and Stokoe filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC and received "right to sue" letters. The agency found "probable cause" that Stokoe was discriminated against, her attorneys said.
Stokoe's lawsuit says supervisors timed her going in and out of the bathroom and told her to keep a daily log of her tasks and bathroom visits. She also says the fire department's leaders said they did not like "females," did not think women belonged in the fire service and said women were second-class workers because they might get pregnant.
The town fired her to "cover up the ongoing discrimination, intimidate other employees, chill further complaints and to foster a culture of retaliation," the lawsuit says.
Pasko interviewed for Stokoe's job in September 2009 and was told he would get it, his suit says. The lawsuit accuses Davie of passing him over for a woman who was not qualified "in case Linda sues."
Taking It to the EEOC
Along with Pasko and Stokoe, eight current or former Davie firefighters have filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC. All 10 are being represented by attorneys Christopher McShane and Erik Nelson.
The town says the complaints have been dismissed, but the attorneys for the firefighters say the EEOC is still investigating.
EEOC officials would not confirm or deny the existence of the complaints, per agency policy.
But according to the firefighters' attorneys and court records, the EEOC is reviewing 18 discrimination complaints filed by six women and two men in the Davie Fire Department. The two male firefighters have since been fired, and allege retaliation.
The complaints were filed by firefighter Lori Davis, firefighter-paramedic Veronica Dominguez-Alu, captains Monica Santana and Kerry Wisdom-Henbest, driver-engineers Laurie Madigan and Roberta Quinones, former firefighter Leonid Gamzardiya and former Capt. Michael Crosse.
Crosse filed a complaint with the EEOC in June 2011, alleging retaliation after he testified in a deposition that women are treated like "second-class citizens" by Montopoli, Deputy Fire Chief Michael Malvasio and top brass.
"The town of Davie Fire Department has three groups that it actively discriminates against," Crosse wrote. He called them the three Fs: "fat, females and fags."
He was fired on Monday, his attorneys say.
Holste did not return two emails and two phone calls asking for confirmation that Crosse had been fired, and Montopoli said "no comment" when asked in person.
Dominguez-Alu wrote that her male colleagues have referred to the women who work with them as "bitches" and other derogatory terms.
"Our chief has said openly that he hates fat people and women," she said.
The firefighters accuse the department brass of cultivating a hostile work environment, where "women are scared to get pregnant because ... [the chiefs] will punish and pick on any woman who is pregnant," Kerry Wisdom-Henbest wrote in a complaint filed with the EEOC in November 2009.
Davis asked to go on light duty after becoming pregnant in 2009, but was told she had to wait until her second trimester on Dec. 10, 2009.
Davis argued that Davie police officers who become pregnant are immediately placed on light duty. She was still refused light duty and told she'd have to use her vacation and sick time.
"My doctor did not feel comfortable with me working full duty, but I had no choice because I needed the money," she wrote in her EEOC complaint. "I lost my baby on Nov. 24, 2009, while working full duty."
Eight days earlier, she was ordered by a supervisor to help fight a fire. The same day, her unborn child stopped developing, according to her doctor.
The International Association of Firefighters recommends that pregnant firefighters not participate in firefighting, hazardous material and EMS operations from the time pregnancy is confirmed. Alternative duty should be assigned for pregnant firefighters, preserving rank and wages, it says.
In his EEOC complaint, signed on Feb. 15, 2011, Gamzardiya said he was retaliated against and fired in 2010 after complaining to the chain of command and Human Resources about anti-Semitic remarks made by fellow firefighters.
He was "subjected to daily barbs about being Jewish, money-hungry, greedy and untrustworthy," he wrote. "There is a climate of hostility in the Town of Davie Fire Department against people who are not white, Christian men."
Written by South Florida Sun-Sentinel