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

Incredibly, Lamar wants her job back. She says as much in the federal lawsuit filed in August, charging that the city, Hanbury, Witschen, Larkin, and Panoch discriminated against her as a black manager and punished her for trying to make public the city's discriminatory employment practices.

"Do I really want to go back into that snake pit?" she asks today. "I really think I could do a lot of good in a short period of time. It won't be comfortable, but the struggle is not about being comfortable. It's about having equality."

What Lamar, a single mother of two, doesn't have these days is a full-time job. Aside from a few consulting jobs, she's been unemployed since she was fired. She claims she's been passed over because her personnel file in Fort Lauderdale does not include her written defenses. Her family has already been evicted from one apartment, and she periodically has to decide which utility to have shut off when money runs out at the end of the month. She drew her last unemployment check in April.

At City Hall in Fort Lauderdale, meanwhile, it's business as usual. Lamar's job was posted while she was still on suspension in September 1996, and it was filled in April 1997 by Yolanda Goodloe Cowart. Since that time Cowart has developed a diversity action program that includes cultural diversity training. She also created a Managing Diversity Committee, a board of top city managers charged with developing diversity policies, creating goals, and guiding the city as it pursues those goals.

"We're not just looking at reactive things but proactive things," Cowart says. "Sure, some employees have issues, but we're trying to resolve them internally."

Not all get resolved. Clyne says he's taking on only cases involving incidents that took place within the last six months, and his plate is full with more than twenty.

Clyne has just begun taking depositions in Lamar's case, and a trial date is nowhere in sight. The top managers named as defendants have filed dozens of motions to avoid answering questions under oath. Lamar isn't surprised. The city, she says, is doing what it's always done: refusing to acknowledge that it tolerates racism, sexism, and favoritism. What's even worse, she adds, is that the white managers are responsible for making decisions that effect all of the city's residents. So why not listen when a black woman, who is an expert in racial issues, says that something is wrong?

"It's like you're stepping on my toe," Lamar says, "and you're telling me not to holler. You don't feel it or understand why I'm hollerin', but you have to trust me that I feel it and get off.

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