Here are some of the nameless folks who comprise the distant copy desk for the once-local St. Augustine Record, now in Austin, Texas:
$600,000 Daytona discrimination settlement approved
Eileen Zaffiro-Kean @EileenDBNJ
Aug 8, 2019 at 6:21 AM
Aug 8, 2019 at 8:45 AM
Daytona Beach News Journal
The city of Daytona Beach has paid out $1 million in two employee discrimination settlements over the past year, and city commissioners say it's time to examine what's going on at City Hall.
DAYTONA BEACH — City commissioners have unanimously approved paying a $600,000 settlement to a former city employee who maintains he was unfairly denied a promotion, subjected to racial and age discrimination and mired in a hostile work environment after he complained.
It's a case that has alarmed some city commissioners, and they don't want another one like it.
"I'm embarrassed that our city in 2019 finds itself in a racial age discrimination settlement with the son of a former commission member and civil rights icon, Jimmy Huger, who fought for us to be able to sit up here," City Commissioner Paula Reed said at Wednesday night's City Commission meeting. "Something's wrong. As my momma would say, something in the milk ain't clean. We can not as a commission continue to bury our heads in the sand."
Reed questioned if the city was blameless in the case, as well as the complaints from another former employee that ended a year ago with the city paying a $456,369 settlement.
"That's a lot of money for nothing to have been done," she said.
Reed said she wants the city to get to the bottom of the problem and determine if it's rooted in management or procedures at City Hall.
"We need to do something," she said. "We spend more time at our jobs than we do at home. For our employees, our staff to come here and to work they need to come to a place where they feel comfortable, where they're excited about doing their jobs and they provide for us and provide for our citizens the best possible skills and talents that they have."
Reed said the city needs to shine a bright light on any discrimination problems that might be lurking "so we don't find ourselves here again."
City Manager Jim Chisholm said employees receive anti-discrimination training, but commissioners decided they want to hold a meeting devoted to discussing the details of what that training entails to figure out if changes are needed.
Chisholm said there's also a process in place to file a complaint and conduct an investigation into a grievance.
"We want to make sure we have procedures we can support, and we have to be sure the training is adequate," said Mayor Derrick Henry.
"We have to treat it with urgency," said City Commissioner Dannette Henry, the mayor's sister. "We need to train and train, and retrain, until we get it right."
City Commissioner Aaron Delgado said "constant retraining is very important" with continually "evolving standards."
The mayor said he also wants city staff to tell commissioners who is training city employees.
Henry said he had a hard time stomaching the amount of money being paid out in the settlement. But City Commissioner Rob Gilliland said the city's insurance company left few choices when it "pulled out the liability clause."
The city's excess insurance carrier, Lexington Insurance Co./AIG, has asserted its right under the insurance policy to require acceptance of the settlement by the city as a condition of coverage, according to an Aug. 1 memo from City Attorney Robert Jagger to city commissioners. Earlier this week city spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said AIG was going to settle the case regardless of what the City Commission did Wednesday night.
"This was the insurance company saying they were going to settle if we didn't," said Delgado, an attorney.
Gilliland said the city can better defend itself in the future with candid employee reviews that include criticisms if they're warranted. He said "it will bite you" if a supervisor doesn't include an employee's shortcomings in written reviews.
The $600,000 settlement stems from the lawsuit filed by Thomas Huger, who was pursuing the deputy public works director position four years ago when he maintains his problems at City Hall began. Huger, whose father was the first black Daytona Beach city commissioner in modern times and the first black Volusia County councilman, sued the city in 2016. His case had been set to go to trial Sept. 3 in Circuit Court.
Huger worked for the city from 2006 until the end of 2017, when he resigned. He was the facilities construction and maintenance manager in the public works department when he applied to become the deputy public works director.
In October 2015, Huger filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying the man chosen was more than 20 years younger, less experienced and white. Huger is black.
Huger still lives in Daytona Beach and has been working as a construction project manager for various local businesses. Both Huger and his attorney, Kelly Chanfrau of Daytona Beach, have declined to comment.
The 67-year-old Huger's claims against the city were for race discrimination; age discrimination; racially based hostile work environment harassment and retaliation; violation of the Florida Public Sector Whistleblower's Act; and constructive discharge from employment. The city denied all of Huger's claims and didn't admit to any liability or wrongdoing.
The settlement provides for Huger to receive $350,000 for compensatory damages, $50,000 for lost wages and $200,000 for his attorney's fees. The agreement commissioners signed off on says Huger will receive $400,000 within 90 days, and the remaining $200,000 by Jan. 10.
The city has also amassed a $525,000 bill defending itself against the lawsuit Huger filed in 2016, a bill rung up with Orlando labor attorney Benton Wood representing the city. But the city will not bear the full $1.12 million weight of the legal costs and settlement.
The city will pay $350,000 and AIG will pay $775,000, Cerbone said. The city also paid AIG premiums of about $190,000 annually for coverage in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years, Cerbone said.
In September last year, ex-city employee Sonja Wiles was awarded a $456,369 settlement. Wiles, a longtime city employee who was fired four years ago, received $214,655 in lost wages and damages, a $23,214 payment to secure a spot in the Florida Retirement System and $218,500 to cover her attorneys’ fees.
Wiles, a public works administrative coordinator, had filed a flurry of complaints and lawsuits against several top city officials alleging gender discrimination, harassment, retaliation, gender-based hostile work environment, First Amendment violations and Family & Medical Leave Act violations.
The city had run up legal bills in excess of $1 million defending against Wiles' allegations. The city paid the first $350,000 of that tally, and the rest was covered by AIG.