Wish I Was in Dixie

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Every man has his limit. For Taurus Barron, it came when his boss told him to park behind the Dania Beach Water Plant, where he worked as a water plant operator.

Well, OK. But why? Why behind, rather than in front of the plant, where all the white employees parked?

No reason given.

The 30-year-old African-American had worked for Dania Beach for two years, running tests, recording chemical concentrations, helping to ensure the safety of the city's water supply. He liked the job. But there had been a series of disagreements with his boss, Chief Water Treatment Plant Operator James Baker.

Barron had been written up in the plant logbook for minor mistakes, he said, the kind of missteps that white employees never got called out on. Baker had an annoying habit of referring to black employees as "you people." He refused to let Barron leave when his replacement came in early — a luxury afforded to all the white workers, Barron claimed.

"I was tired of being harassed and treated unfair by James Baker," Barron wrote. "It's stressing me out. Everyday I come to work with headaches because I'm afraid of what James is going to say or do to upset me."

For Barron, the unexplained parking requirement reeked of second-class treatment, the kind of institutional insult that Rosa Parks called a halt to in 1955 when she refused to sit in the back of that Montgomery, Alabama, bus. This was September 2006. Barron, convinced that Baker was discriminating against him, submitted his resignation.

In any other city, the contretemps between Barron and Baker might have gone unnoticed by anyone but a few bureaucrats — a distressing disagreement between two city employees, but not significant of anything larger. Sometimes, people just can't get along.

But this was Dania Beach, with a documented history of troubled race relations. The plant where Barron and Baker worked had, in the past decade, been the scene of bitter racial rifts reminiscent of the Jim Crow era: bathrooms segregated by supervisory fiat, Confederate flags displayed in defiance, the n-word barked in anger.

Though the water plant is closed to public view, its inner workings secret, some black Dania Beach residents contend that racism — like the water from the plant — continues to pump through the city at large.

There's something about Dania Beach.

The day after Barron resigned, he reconsidered. After all, a good job is hard to find, even if you have to put up with some low-grade bigotry. But he was turned down. Sorry, Barron, you resigned and you're going to have to live with your decision.

Barron decided he had no other recourse but to file a formal complaint. He went to Dania's Human Resources Department, then to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Human Resources Director Mary McDonald conducted the requisite investigation of Barron's claims. Ultimately, she refuted each of Barron's accusations with information from Baker. The parking assignment was forced by construction work, affecting Barron because he was low man on the seniority totem pole. The logbook entries had no disciplinary consequence (though Baker apologized for singling out Barron), and McDonald found no evidence of discrimination in Baker's early release policy.

In a note to Barron, McDonald wrote, "Taurus, the city takes complaints of racial discrimination quite seriously and will not tolerate it in the workplace. Based on the preliminary investigation, I am not able to conclude evidence of discrimination."

To Baker, she typed another memo. "Jim, please understand that the city has a responsibility to ensure a fair workplace, and complaints of discrimination must be investigated. I sincerely appreciate your candor and cooperation."

But as far as Barron was concerned, McDonald had taken everything Baker said as fact, and Barron wasn't settling for that. He went to the Broward County Office of Equal Opportunity, Civil Rights Division, an arm of the EEOC, which conducted its own investigation, finding evidence to refute each of McDonald's conclusions.

Employees interviewed by county investigators told the Broward Civil Rights Division that no construction had been going on when Baker made Barron park in the back, and two other black employees, Alvan Jones and Stanly Johnson, said they were inexplicably asked to do the same. Many said there was plenty of room in front. They also disputed Baker on the other points.

The EEOC investigators found the workers' stories more credible.

"There is reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful discriminatory practice has occurred based on race," wrote Earlene Striggles Horne, director of the division. Investigators also uncovered a long history of minority employees' being treated differently and quitting because they felt discriminated against.

Dania Beach hired a lawyer to assess whether the city should settle with Barron. That lawyer, Onier Llopiz, interviewed past and present employees.

There had been odd out-of-context references in McDonald's notes to racially loaded terms like segregated, noose, and nigger. Llopiz placed the words in context. Segregated referred to segregated bathrooms, which had been the policy at the water plant until at least 1996. In 1997, some white employees hung a noose in the area where most of the black employees worked. Managers conceded that they had sometimes referred to blacks as "niggers," but only in anger, they told the lawyer.

Llopiz advised Dania to settle the case out of court. After all, Barron, who had no lawyer, was asking for less than $17,000. In Llopiz's opinion, Dania would probably lose in court.

For the casual outsider, this Old Florida city, laid out between burgeoning tourist meccas, appears to be a relic of the 1950s. A short tour of "downtown" takes you through the pastel stucco shops of Antique Row, past old bakeries that still emanate the same cinnamon-bun aromas, and along a railroad track that once racially divided the city like a Ginsu.

Broward County's first incorporated city — originally called Modello — was founded by 35 Danes in 1904. For their livelihood, the settlers farmed tomatoes, which by 1910 had become the base of Dania's economy. Canning and packing plants sprang up all over the area, and in 1927, the city held its first Tomato Festival. This involved carnival rides, a parade, and the highly anticipated tomato fights, fueled with overripe and squishy rotten ammo.

Blacks weren't invited to the party, though it was they who picked most of the tomatoes. It was the segregated black schools, not the white ones, that closed so the children could be available to work the fields. To this day, many black Danians refuse to attend the festival out of principle.

Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the city's African-Americans, living in narrow shotgun homes on the west side of town, weren't allowed across the railroad tracks after 6 p.m. without a good excuse. They were banned from stores, schools, movie theaters, water fountains, bathrooms, beaches, and seemingly everywhere else white people roamed, according to historical accounts.

Mae McKutcheon, a 65-year-old black woman who's spent all her life in Dania, remembers it well. "You weren't allowed in Burdines and Jordan Marsh and none of those stores," she says. "You couldn't try on hats or things."

If she and her family wanted to go to the beach, she says in an account confirmed by other black residents, they'd have to catch a ferry at Port Everglades that would bring them to a hidden stretch of shoreline with no shops or restaurants. For years, if black children in Dania wanted to graduate from high school, they had to find a way to get to Miami. Their local school offered nothing beyond 11th grade.

But with a concerted attack against Jim Crow laws, things slowly started to change. Dania Beach even took a leading role in the county. The city hired the first black police officer in Broward in 1957 and the second in all of Florida. His name was Thomas Henry Hampton, but everybody called him Jabbo and told stories about how he fought a bear. However, he was not immediately allowed to write any tickets, according to longtime residents of the city. For years, Jabbo would have to go to City Hall to get somebody white to sign off.

Jabbo was just one of Dania's black firsts. In 1966, Boisy Waiters became Broward County's first black elected official. Bobbie Grace became the county's first black mayor. Dania doctor Raymond Walker was the first black orthopedic surgeon in the state.

Still, residents and observant outsiders aren't seeing a whole lot of progress. Historian Prudy Taylor Board, who wrote The History of Dania Beach, Florida: A Century of Pioneer Spirit (2004), has written many histories of cities. But she found Dania to be exceptional in its aversion to change and new ideas.

"Dania is a city lost in time," she says. "It's like they're still living in the '50s and the '60s... I shouldn't say this, but they could be a lot more progressive."

The town leadership comes largely from a small entrenched group, Board points out. Many mayors and city commissioners, including Mac McElyea, John Bertino, and Albert Jones, have been elected four and five times in the past three decades.

There aren't many newcomers to the city in general. Aside from annexations that largely diluted the black community (until 2000, Dania was about 24 percent black), the population has grown by only about 1,500 people, to 28,831, in the past seven years. As high-rises shoot up in Fort Lauderdale to the north and Hollywood to the south, the old city's landscape remains roughly the same.

Business owners say they are becoming increasingly frustrated with the city's lack of vitality. Carol Grampa, who with her husband has owned Grampa's Bakery on SW First Street, near Federal Highway, since 1957, says that stagnant leadership over the past couple of decades has caused the city to miss its opportunity for growth. "It's like we're moving backwards," she says.

And it would be one thing if Dania weren't ensconced on prime real estate. But, Grampa says, an oceanside South Florida city that's two minutes from an international airport and a major highway should have more to offer than a few places to buy a boat, the dying sport of jai alai, and a struggling row of antique shops.

"It's like no one knows we're here," agrees one antique-shop owner who asked not to be named. To businesses, no change means lower profits. To residents like Barron, it means that prejudiced bosses and politicians aren't going anywhere.

James Meredith Baker, the man who would some day become Barron's on-the-job antagonist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1952, and his family soon relocated to South Florida. He completed a year of business school at Broward Community College and joined the naval reserves. In 1972, he submitted an application to become a sewer plant operator in Dania Beach.

The city hired Baker (who declined to be interviewed by New Times) even though he had already been fired as a sewer plant operator at Pine Island Ridge. The dismissal was the result of his taking two days off after working four months straight, he said.

Baker's personnel file shows that this stickler for correct procedure has been far from exemplary as a city employee, though he appears to have led a charmed employment life in Dania Beach. On May 20, 1977, he fell asleep on the job, and the water plant control room flooded. "Your next offense of this nature will be termination of your job with the city of Dania," utilities superintendent Julian Allen wrote. Still, on October 1 and 2, 1977, Baker failed to take necessary readings that needed to be reported to the state, for which he received a disciplinary memo. He kept his job.

Baker received another memo in July 1984 regarding his conduct in public. The city received one complaint from Steak & Egg restaurant about his alleged harassment of a waitress, then, five days later, another from the Sea Witch Restaurant.

"This will be your last warning that this type of conduct must cease," the memo in his personnel file said.

In May 1987, Baker was arrested by Dania police and charged with criminal mischief, disorderly intoxication, and resisting arrest after an altercation with some other men, who were also arrested. After being jailed, Baker became verbally abusive, according to the report, yelling motherfucker and trying to break free. He kicked a wall and smashed himself against another with enough force to crack it, the report said.

It added: "Officers tried to extend professional courtesy to Baker, but due to Baker's behavior and combative attitude, it left officers with no alternative but to carry out sworn duties."

In 1988, Baker received yet another disciplinary memo. He had been two hours late, "and worst of all, you had a very distinct odor of alcohol beverage on your breath," wrote the public works and utilities director. Baker was issued a formal warning about alcohol. Again, he kept his job.

In 1995, water plant operator Dan Cherian, who is Indo-Trinidian, wrote a letter to Public Works Director Bud Palm complaining about Baker's favoritism toward a white employee, who avoided undesirable tasks. "These sorts of discrimination will lower the morale of the employees," Cherian wrote. "Your interference is vital to release the tension." In the same year, Palm recommended Baker for Employee of the Month.

In 1996, Cherian wrote another letter to Baker, Bud Palm, and Leo Williams, now superintendent of public works, accusing Baker of having "a pervert mind" and showing prejudice, favoritism, and an attitude problem. The letter described an incident in which Baker mixed a black man's lunch with cat food. "You have a skin-color attitude, which is highly objectionable," Cherian wrote. "It is better that you change your attitude toward other operators and respect everybody equally."

The city did nothing.

In 2001, Baker allegedly cursed a female employee who was trying to help him fix his beeper. "This is unacceptable from anyone, let alone a division supervisor, who should be setting an example, not creating a problem," Palm wrote. "Many times you have let your temper and mouth get the best of you, only to apologize later on. This pattern and any other such behavior is to cease immediately... I will not tolerate any employees verbally abusing each other."

No one at the city had an explanation why Baker kept his job through those years. But Robert Chunn's got some ideas.

An October breeze shakes the blades of grass on either side of Phippen-Waiters Street — a suburban Dania two-lane street originally named for white developer George Phippen. The Dania City Commission modified the name in 1994 to include the surname of Dania's first black commissioner, Boisy Waiters Sr., as a symbol of racial unity.

With each passing car, a smiling driver waves at Robert Chunn, who is perched on the edge of his pickup truck, talking about what it was like to be Dania's black mayor.

"It was hell," he says of his 2002 mayoralty. "It was the worst thing I ever did in my life."

That's a bold statement coming from an ex-heroin addict and high school dropout. Chunn isn't proud of his past, he says, but around the time he decided to run for mayor, atoning for that past through public service had become his goal.

Chunn got into politics through participation in Turn-Around-Dania, a citizen patrol group that renowned Philadelphia crime fighter Herman Wrice helped found. The group's goal was to clean up Dania, Chunn says, and not just the streets but the political leadership. In showing that drug crimes could be taken care of properly, he says, Wrice hoped to expose the ineffectiveness of the city's politicians.

When Wrice died in 2000, Chunn decided to continue the legacy of citizen action by making a run for City Commission. To his surprise, some established community leaders rallied behind him. Sophia Steele, Beulah Lair, and commissioner Pat Flury backed Chunn — some say to split the black vote and defeat another black candidate, Bobbie Grace. But they never expected him to come in with the second most votes of any candidate. That meant, under city bylaws, that in his second year, he'd become the mayor of Dania. His white backers asked Chunn, a welder with no political experience, to relinquish Dania's highest honor, but Chunn had other ideas. When he disobeyed his advisers, Chunn claims, they got nasty.

A dozen witnesses swear they heard Steele, a former housing authority board member, and Lair, who sat on the code enforcement board, refer to Chunn as a "nigger." It happened at a liquor store. It happened in a City Council meeting. (The late Steele denied the allegation.) The media covered the story extensively, with headlines like: "Dania Beach hopes to squash tension over slur charge" and "Meeting addresses racism accusation." And finally, the Miami Herald on July 10, 2002: "Dania takes no action on racial controversy."

At the meeting, commissioner Bob Mikes told a crowd of angry residents, "What do you expect the commission to do?... You're never going to end prejudice."

Bob Adams, director of Broward County's Human Rights Board, urged the City Commission to be more forceful in dealing with discriminatory behavior. "Their silence speaks very loudly," Adams told the Miami Herald.

Chunn says he was so concerned about white reaction to his election that he declined offers of food and drink at City Hall. "I wouldn't eat or drink anything in City Commission meetings," he says. No water. No cookies. No coffee. Nothing.

During Chunn's term, a predominantly black neighborhood called Camp Blanding was plagued with the effects of toxic chemicals after a developer started digging into a former illegal dumpsite. Residents were coming down with respiratory problems, skin rashes, and nosebleeds. When Debra Wallace complained to Ivan Pato that her pets were dying, the city responded by citing Wallace with four minor code violations on her own property.

According to Chunn, city leaders, preoccupied with plans to expand Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, did nothing for Camp Blanding residents. City attorney Tom Ansbro told New Times last year that Dania didn't have the staff to handle the situation.

"They didn't do anything to address the issue of those folks being sick," says Chunn, who has aided affected residents to initiate a class-action suit against Dania Distribution Centre Inc., the company that had once operated a plant on the site. Chunn says that when he investigated the site, he was affected by fumes from the toxic chemicals. "I went out there," he says. "I got sick."

Chunn served four contentious years, with much of the controversy concerning city appointments and with Chunn usually on the losing side. On the day his mayoralty ended, Chunn says, he went home to his long-suffering wife. When he walked in the door, they embraced, and she told him, "I'm so glad it's over."

Being mayor wasn't nearly so difficult for C.K. "Mac" McElyea. He's done it five times already, and he's hoping someday to make it six.

McElyea, who is white, is a tow company mogul and a former crop duster in the tomato fields. His family's got five generations of history in Dania. So when you're looking for him in Grampa's Diner, an old-fashioned café with peach-colored walls and curtains in the windows, the hostess has no trouble pointing in the big guy's direction.

McElyea is squeezed into a booth noshing on grits and toast. It's his ritual after the weekly car auction in Davie. Today, he bought six junkers he intends to dismantle and sell for parts. He owns a slew of properties in Dania Beach worth millions of dollars, as well as a garage full of antique cars, two airplanes, a trawler boat, a North Carolina farmhouse, and a cottage on the beach that he uses "just for a playhouse."

"I got all the toys you could want," he says with a smile that stretches an oversized Band-Aid on his nose, covering the former site of a skin cancer and giving him a tough-guy look. In 1991, he shot at two teenagers with a 12-gauge shotgun when they tried to break into Mac's Towing, wounding them both, and he's been involved in fisticuffs over numerous towing incidents.

After breakfast, we hop into one of McElyea's trucks. The former mayor is going to give the scoop on whether his city is quietly racist.

First stop: the home of Bobbie Grace, the first black mayor of Dania Beach. And actually, the fact that we're going to Grace's is its own small piece of progress. Several years ago, Grace refused to be McElyea's vice mayor or even talk to him because, according to McElyea, she thought he was a racist.

McElyea's great-grandfather may have owned slaves in Kentucky, but he's not at all racist. "A lot of people think I'm an old Dania boy and I don't like blacks," he says. "But my mother always taught me, 'They hurt just like you do.' "

In almost the same breath, though, he relays another of his mother's lessons: "Black birds don't mate with red birds, and red birds don't mate with blue birds." Though he wouldn't go so far as to criminalize interracial marriage, the lesson stuck. "I don't agree with mixing colors — that's just me," McElyea says. "I think the children will pay down the road."

After getting to know him better and taking him to church a few times, Grace changed her mind about McElyea, he says, driving over the railroad tracks and heading down SW Sixth Street to Grace's peach-colored home, across from Modello Park.

The interior is cleanly decorated in soft pinks, elegant roses, and dozens of African-American figurines. Grace, a tired-seeming woman, comes out in a T-shirt and sweatpants. She's recovering from breast cancer, the recent loss of her mother, and the loss of her daughter to lupus several years ago. But she's relaxed and cordial and offers beverages.

In talking about Dania, her big brown eyes become animated and watchful. It's clear she's passionate about the city, and she doesn't want people thinking it's racist.

"When we first came here, it was in 1951, and it was very visible," she says. "But as the years progressed, so did the residents and the diversity that we have in the city of Dania Beach." There are new faces in government and a wide selection of job opportunities for minorities, she says, noting that in the 1960s and '70s, Dania had more black employees than any other city in Broward. Businesses like Grampa's Bakery, Jaxson's Ice Cream, and the Pick'N'Pay grocery store began hiring blacks in the early '60s, she says.

Recently, Grace has been active in bringing in more affordable single-family homes to the northwest area, which used to be comprised of rundown wooden shacks for migrant workers, sometimes living ten to a room. Arlen Rice's citizen patrol project, Turn-Around-Dania, helped thwart much of the drug crime, she says with pride, and there has been improvement in the sidewalks, lighting, code enforcement, and after-school programs for children.

Kids can play in the park across the street — with its baseball diamond, a lush green field, and a basketball court — until 6 p.m. every weekday. Dania Beach looks like it's come a very long way.

But like the rest of Dania's current and former public officials, Grace says she isn't very familiar with the situation at the water plant.

"Segregating the bathrooms?" she asks. "I didn't hear about it. But that should never happen."

She did, however, catch wind of an incident in 1997, when hanging nooses appeared in the city lunchroom and the shop where mostly blacks worked. One white manager said somebody "just hung it up for no reason but to hang it up." Another said it was a misunderstanding.

"It was done as a joke, but that's no joke," Grace says. "There's nothing funny about it."

Then there was the picture of the Confederate flag that once hung in Baker's office. Was Grace aware of that?

"If you are a strong-minded person, you don't take it personal," she says, comparing it to her days working for Southern Bell, when she had to deal with a manager who wore a pin with an image of Alabama Gov.George Wallace, that state's champion of "separate but equal" schools.

When the subject of Chunn's rocky mayoralty comes up, McElyea sounds a conciliatory note.

"They thought he was an n, but he wasn't," he says. "He was a smart man. Didn't have a lot of education, but he was a smart man. A good man."

Grace smirks and seems to be looking through McElyea to the table behind him, where her figurines are stationed. They're all painted in various shades of brown and situated in different costumes and poses. There are cheerleaders and doctors, basketball players and angels. They all represent members of Grace's family, but not all the figurines come from the same place, she says.

"Some of them are porcelain. Some of them are not. Some are very expensive. Some are not. But they all live together," Grace says. "Yeah, they all live together. It's just like us. Some are more fortunate than others, but they all..."

Onier Llopiz's investigation, which has not been widely read, appears to knock the wind out of McElyea's depiction of a serene Dania Beach where everybody gets along. In an effort to help Llopiz decide if Barron had a case against Dania, its employees trotted out every incident of racism they could recall.

For example, Baker conceded that after 1976, the Water Treatment Plant bathrooms were segregated. He wasn't sure when the segregation ended, but he said he believed it was after the Sun-Sentinel reported on the topic.

New Times could find no such article. According to Chunn, in 2002, Broward Times journalist Elgin Jones was trying to get the maintenance workers from the Public Works Department on the record about racism in the department, but they were afraid of losing their jobs.

The segregation setup was enforced with locked doors, Llopiz found. The plant's so-called "utility" workers, most of whom were white, had keys to one men's room while an adjacent men's room was open for maintenance workers, most of whom were black. Ahmad Thomas, who works at the nearby sewer plant, told Llopiz that in 1996, he saw Baker hang signs in front of each bathroom that said "Utility" and "Maintenance."

Other managers insisted that the bathrooms were separate for cleanliness purposes and denied any intent to segregate. But Don Hansen, a manager at the plant, admitted that from the beginning, whites used one bathroom and blacks another. Baker himself recognized that the effect of the division between utility and maintenance workers was to segregate African-Americans and whites. "In short, a practice from the '60s continued until at least 1996," Llopiz wrote.

In addition to often referring to blacks as "you people," Hansen admitted that he and others used the word nigger, but in anger. For example, he recalled Baker having a fight with former black supervisor Mike Alexander, then referring to him as "that dumb nigger." Baker was quick to criticize black workers — for example, often telling Barron, a competent worker by the standards of city evaluations, that Barron didn't know what he was doing.

In his office, Baker kept a picture of Robert E. Lee holding up a Confederate flag. He claimed he did this in response to some of the black workers wearing Malcolm X hats. Baker also said he placed a Confederate flag on the back of a truck that belonged to a black worker because he was angry with the worker.

In the 1990s, Thomas recalled, black workers were not allowed to enter City Hall, and they were also asked not to enter certain workspaces, including the shop and the water plant. Thomas told Llopiz he was required by Williams to work while white employees sat smoking or playing solitaire. He said black workers were always given the worst trucks.

As for Barron's parking complaint, Hansen said that every other operator but Barron was allowed to park in the front. (Others noted that Alvan Jones and Stanly Johnson received the same restriction.) Hansen added that Baker seemed to give Barron "a hard time all the time."

During the interview with Llopiz, Baker initially said he told Baker to park in "employee parking," avoiding the words "out back." But in a subsequent interview, he admitted he was trying to save the situation from being linked to the Rosa Parks "back of the bus" incident.

Nearly all of the plant's minority employees said Baker found fault with them more frequently than he did with whites. Those interviewed agreed that Baker had problems with Barron, Lutchman Singh (an East Indian), and Dan Cherian (Indo-Trinidadian), as well as Alvin Jones and Mike Alexander (both African-Americans). Singh eventually left the Dania plant to work in another city, reportedly because of Baker. Jones worked there for just four months and quit on the same day Barron did, for the same reason.

So why, over all these years, did no one complain to the city? They wanted to keep their jobs, minority workers said. And they were afraid of retaliation.

After the only formal complaint — the letters Cherian wrote in the mid-1990s — he became the target for frequent management complaints, he says. Cherian told EEOC investigators that he had thought about quitting many times but that the pay and benefits were good, so he tolerated Baker. (Cherian did not respond to messages from New Times.)

Other employees told Llopiz and New Times that retaliation was always on their minds.

Llopiz's recommendations to the city were clear. Unless it was prepared for a torrent of bad press and a costly lawsuit, it should settle. "Because the amount at issue is approximately $16,000, liability likely, potential federal civil claims possible, costs of defense great, unlimited exposure to damages, fees judgments, and a large verdict to be expected, settlement for such a reduced amount is recommended," he wrote.

The case threatened to uncover decades of racism in Dania. Even Baker recognized the problem. "If you put all this together, it makes me look like the grandmaster of the Ku Klux Klan," he told Llopiz, "but I never intended to hurt anyone because they were black."

Though Dania's Human Resources director, Mary McDonald, admits that in the past there were unacceptable practices going on within the city, she's sticking to her original conclusions on the Barron case.

"There was no evidence of racially motivated actions," she said in an email. "Each assertion was answered with facts that did not support a claim of racial bias." But the events of the past "cast a shadow of doubt," McDonald wrote, which led to Dania's settling the case with Barron, who had no lawyer until the end of the process, for $16,987.

Though it's difficult to know how much Barron could have gotten, several lawyers New Times talked to about the case said that a good lawyer would have advised him to ask for more, possibly a lot more. But the EEOC rarely seeks damages for pain and suffering, one lawyer said.

Barron's settlement included back pay for the 19 weeks he was unemployed. It also included attorney's fees and the differences in his salary and health benefits at his new job with the Coral Springs water plant.

As for Baker, he was put on a performance plan and given sensitivity training. "The decision to keep Mr. Baker employed was made after consulting with legal counsel and it was a difficult decision," McDonald wrote. "While we cannot deny that Mr. Baker as well as other employees have participated in unacceptable practices some years ago, there was no concrete evidence that these practices persist."

Baker completed his training, which included diversity and ethics, in June 2007. Lately, he's been receiving merit-pay bonuses on schedule, taking a leadership course. In February, Baker was chosen as a mentor for a new water plant employee, Leonard Perry. According to a document in Baker's file, mentors are "wise and trusted counselors" who oversee the orientation, training, and coaching of a new hire.

Dominik Orlando, director of Public Services, sent Baker a congratulatory memo. "Being selected as a mentor points to our confidence in your ability to set an example and provide leadership," he said.

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