The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a settlement with the City of Venice, Florida, resolving its race discrimination lawsuit against the city.
The suit alleged the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it subjected James Williamson, a 30-year Black city employee, to a series of unwarranted disciplinary actions, including two unpaid suspensions and ultimately termination, because of his race. Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.
“It is both morally wrong and illegal to single out any employee for harsh and unwarranted discipline because of the employee’s race, and to subject individuals, like Mr. Williamson, to discharge because of race,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric S. Dreiband. “In this free country, all workers have a right to work without suffering unjust and unlawful race discrimination. This settlement agreement reflects the Civil Rights Division’s continued commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against race discrimination by state and local governmental employers.”
According to the United States’ complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the City of Venice did not have legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for treating Williamson far more harshly in imposing discipline than the city did toward his comparable white coworkers. According to the lawsuit, the city disciplined Williamson nine times, over a two-year period, including three separate reprimands in one day. These punishments were predicated on Williamson’s supposed violations of work rules, such as taking normal lunch breaks in public parks, that were never enforced against his white coworkers.
The city ultimately fired Williamson, the only Black employee working in the Parks Division of the city’s Public Works Department, without justification and after he had been subjected to prolonged use of racial slurs, including the n-word, directed towards him and in his presence, and to close scrutiny of, and finding fault with, his work without legitimate reasons.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city will pay Williamson $195,000 for lost wages and compensatory damages. The settlement agreement also requires the city to develop and submit to the Justice Department for approval anti-discrimination policies and to provide its supervisors and managers with training on those policies and on the types of conduct in the workplace that constitute unlawful employment practices under Title VII.
The Tampa Field Office, which is part of the Miami District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), investigated and attempted to resolve Williamson’s charge of discrimination before referring it to the Department of Justice as an enforcement action. More information about the EEOC’s jurisdiction is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.
The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and https://www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section.
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