The City of Venice reached a $195,000 settlement with the Justice Department on Tuesday regarding a discrimination lawsuit from a city employee.
The lawsuit claims the city treated a 30-year-old Black city employee, James Williamson, unjustly over the course of two years. The lawsuit cites multiple “unwarranted” disciplinary actions including two unpaid suspensions and termination. In all, the city disciplined Williamson nine times, over a two-year period, including three separate reprimands in one day.
What’s more, the complaint alleges Williamson was subject to “prolonged use of racial slurs” throughout his employment.
According to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida, the city did not have a non-discriminatory reason to treat Williamson differently than other White employees. The suit alleged the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which 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 Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General 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.”
In addition to paying Williamson for lost wages and damages, the city must also create anti-discrimination policies and a training program for supervisors and managers. The program and policies will require approval from the Justice Department.
Williamson was first hired by the city in 1987 as a truck driver and laborer, according to the lawsuit. By 2015, the city government had 269 full time employees, 255 were White and 7 were Black.
That same year, the city discovered a noose hung in the Public Works Department where Williamson was employed. According to the lawsuit, an investigation conducted by City Administrative Services Director Alan Bullock concluded that the identified worker did not “intended any malice” and “did not intend to target anyone with any sinister underlying message.”
The identified worker was counseled for the incident.
A copy of the complaint is below.