Robert Lockwood's Hush Money

Broward's Clerk of Courts wants a million of your dollars to kill a racial bias suit before he faces questions under oath. Here's why.

The suit alleges other racial harassment:
*In the probate department, African-American employees were required to punch a time clock; whites weren't.

*When Naomi Gomez, a white employee who supported the African-American employees, went on maternity leave, she was told her job would be held open six weeks. She came back earlier, but her position was given to a new hire -- who applied the very day Gomez returned. Out of work for three months, Gomez was reinstated only after the NAACP threatened to sue Lockwood.

*In a position posting for data-terminal operator, the notice included a typing requirement of 15 words a minute. After black employee Sonja Ferguson took the typing test and passed with 28 words a minute, the white supervisor said, "Sorry we just raised the requirement to 30 words per minute." Ferguson didn't get the job.

As another example of a promotions "glass ceiling," the suit details the experience of Ivan Williams, who first applied for a promotion to courtroom clerk in 1988. When a white supervisor told him the position was only temporary and he likely would be out of a job in six months, Williams withdrew his name. The promotion went to a white employee, who seven years later still held the "temporary" position.

Twice more Williams applied for promotion and was rejected in favor of whites, including an October 1993 incident when he was passed over in favor of two white females, both with less experience. One of the whites promoted had a sister who already worked as a courtroom clerk. According to the suit, the promoted white woman also had taken "a criminal plea after she was indicted on drug charges." Williams, the suit noted, "had more experience than the Caucasians and no criminal background."

Even those African-Americans who advanced also faced discrimination, the suit alleges, offering as an example June Lewis, who in the late '80s was promoted from purchasing agent to finance supervisor. Although she was promised a 20 percent pay increase, she received only 5 percent, "and I had to fight for two years to get the five," she said. Two whites promoted to supervisor about the same time received the full 20 percent.

After her promotion Lewis' white superior, one of Lockwood's eight higher-level directors, told her she wouldn't rise any higher in the Clerk's office because she didn't participate in Lockwood's political campaigns, Lewis said in an interview last week. To make her look better to the Clerk during the 1992 campaign, the director, according to the suit, "gave Lewis a $100 check instructing Lewis to reissue her own personal check.... In fact Lewis donated nothing, as the money was [the director's]." According to the suit, the director told Lewis, "It is mandatory that each of the Clerk's directors raise a minimum of $2500 for Robert Lockwood's reelection campaign."

Lewis says it made the director "look good that all her management staff gave her a campaign contribution. They would come around and tell you, well the Clerk has been in office for four years, and $25 a year is not too much to ask."

In 1996 Lockwood was reelected to his sixth four-year term. During political campaigns, the suit contends, a white supervisor "constantly reminds all blacks that they must vote for Lockwood because 'he signs your checks.' Caucasians are instructed to vote for Lockwood; however, they are not threatened with termination."

Lewis, a thirteen-year employee, left the Clerk's office three years ago after developing high blood pressure and decided to help with the lawsuit. She became a plaintiff, she said, because "I had seen too much. I was in a position to hear a lot of things and know a lot of things. It was just time."

When the African-American employees formally filed the suit in 1995, Lockwood called it frivolous and accused them of extortion, vowing, "My office will not be shaken down, and I will defend this case to the bitter end." He continued: "In my lifetime I have never been accused of being a racist. I am extremely proud of my record of hiring and promoting females and minorities."

During more than two years of litigation, Lockwood apparently didn't want to discuss that record under oath, for his lawyers repeatedly filed motions that stalled the taking of depositions. In February, Judge Roettger, noting "very little [evidence] discovery has taken place," issued an omnibus order denying Lockwood motions to dismiss the case, to halt the deposition process, or to restrict the number of people who could observe depositions being taken.

One month after that order, Lockwood filed initial settlement papers and last week announced the full $1.3 million deal, calling it a "good business decision." Once again he insisted he had never discriminated.

That didn't surprise June Lewis, who remembers her years as a supervisor and holds Lockwood accountable for what went on. "The Clerk was good at saying 'I didn't know,' but people were saying the same things over and over again to him directly. When something comes up and it's not right and he doesn't fix it, he's as liable as the person who did it.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help