Biting the Hand That Needs

From the beach to city hall, Fort Lauderdale puts women and minorities in their place, says an affirmative action specialist who was fired after speaking up

In her report, Lamar concludes that the city was suffering from "affirmative action cycle," a five-year period in which a female and/or minority is hired and eventually leaves because, in Lamar's words, "the internal organizational culture does not match our stated goals, and recruits become disillusioned about being able to obtain career expectations and decide to leave the organization." The phenomenon is common, Lamar says, and typically overlooked when annual reports don't offer statistical comparisons.

Promotions, of course, are available at more than just middle and senior levels, and Lamar claims that, at all levels, minorities complain about the lack of opportunity in Fort Lauderdale.

Keith Hudson, a white parks and recreation employee, says he was offered the chance to go from Level I for maintenance workers to Level II back in 1981, soon after he was hired. Because Hudson was planning to move to Colorado at the time, he suggested the promotion go instead to Willie McIntyre, the black employee who'd trained him and been with the city for five years. Hudson says that, because the promotion was meant only for him, the supervisor ripped up the paper on which it was written in front of both men.

"I got real pissed at that," Hudson recalls. "But Willie just said, 'No man, that's just the way [the supervisor] is,' and we went about our jobs. To this day they are like that. I'm probably the only white guy who will say this because we're all afraid of losing our jobs. That's one of the biggest fears people have in this city today -- speaking out will get you fired, especially if it's against management. But I'm tired of being messed with. They treat me just as bad as they treat some of the black guys."

Hudson assumes that he was offered the promotion because, at the time, his then-mother-in-law worked for the city. "They figured I was somebody," he says. "Willie was nobody to them." Hudson says McIntyre eventually quit because of the unfair treatment.

Lamar's 1996 report shows that, in some cases, minorities weren't able even to get a foot in the door. The racial makeup of the beach patrol is the most telling. In 1996 at least two African-Americans, two Hispanics, and ten women should have been either patrol members or beach lifeguards. The numbers, instead, were zero, one, and one, respectively. On the other hand, the numbers for minority and female detention officers were higher than the city's goals. Because both jobs are listed under the "non-sworn protective services" category, the overall tally suggested the city was meeting its goals. But Lamar's detailed look at the years 1991 to 1996 concluded that, on the beach at least, that wasn't the case.

"The city says blacks are hired for the jail [detention officer jobs] because they apply," Lamar says. "Well, blacks apply for detention officers because they know they can get those jobs. If you have a 75-year history of not hiring blacks [as lifeguards] on the beach, it doesn't take long for them to get it. You tend not to apply because you know you won't get it.

"That is what systemic racism is," she adds. "A system is in place -- and it's perpetuated for three generations -- that has eliminated an entire section of the population. [City managers] cannot fix the problem by waiting for [minorities] to come in and apply."

Look around, and you'll see black lifeguards at the city's pools and parks every summer, but you'll find none on the beach. In her deposition Lamar says that she's been told by black applicants that the city won't hire black lifeguards because white tourists don't go to Fort Lauderdale "to see niggers on the beach."

Meanwhile, blacks are fixtures on beach maintenance crews. In fact, the first black hired for the job was McCree, in 1977. What's interesting to note, Lamar says, is that beach maintenance workers start work before dawn and finish by noon, a time when tourists are just starting to head to the beaches.

Lamar's report was never made public, her bosses say, because it was inaccurate. Larkin did not return phone calls for this story, but Panoch and Witschen say the report's conclusions were Lamar's opinions and not based in fact.

"Her draft was all screwed up, and that's one of the reasons she's not here any more," Panoch says. "Her job [was] to give conclusions based on facts, not on opinions."

But in depositions taken two weeks ago for Lamar's lawsuit, three black midlevel managers currently employed in the planning, public services, and city manager's departments claim they had either experienced or received reports of discriminatory employment practices.

"I wouldn't be so up in arms about this if it was an isolated incident," says Lamar's attorney, Reginald Clyne. "I get at least one or two calls a week from city employees [about discrimination]. I'm hoping that if I create a big enough stink, they will react by firing some of the top management and hiring people who will enforce the laws."

Since taking on Lamar's case in late 1996, Clyne says he's come across two dozen current and former employees with strong-enough cases to file formal complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). At least eight have filed formal complaints, and he's using the others to prove in court that Fort Lauderdale treats black and female employees more harshly than white male employees.

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