A group of Fort Lauderdale employees filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the public works department is a “hostile, toxic and bullying work environment.”
Employees older than 40 get demoted and disciplined for no reason and don’t get promotions, separate complaints from three employees say.
Black employees are discriminated against, too, the complaints say. They are “singled out and subjected to unprofessional and humiliating behavior” including “loud ranting, berating, demeaning and abusive language,” one says.
The EEOC will next determine whether to investigate the complaints.
The three are among the 26 employees who also filed a complaint with the city’s own Office of Professional Standards in June.
That complaint says public works employees started having problems in mid-2013: younger employees are treated better; older employees’ positions are frequently shuffled; instructions on how to do things are unclear; managers are unprofessional, rude and “unwilling to make timely decision[s].”
“This creates a counterproductive working environment, and it started to affect our ability to perform our duties,” says the complaint. “It saddens us to see that instead of concentrating on completing the projects we spend considerable amount of time on answering accusatory emails and trying to get clear directives on what needs to be done to move the projects forward.”
The EEOC complaints say the problems started when Hardeep Anand was promoted to Public Works Director in March 2013.
The city hired independent investigator Rosilyn Dickerson in August to look into the Office of Professional Standards complaint, said city spokesman Chaz Adams.
She was hired “to ensure that the proper level of resources were being allocated to address the situation, and to ensure that an evaluation would be conducted by an objective, independent third party,” Adams said.
The investigator should report to the city in November, said Chris Sharp, an attorney representing some of the employees who have made complaints.
Most of the 26 employees who filed the complaint are “just waiting” to see what Dickerson’s report says, Sharp said.
“The hope is that will help resolve the situation,” he said. “Legally, you’re required to complain through the employee’s complaint mechanism first. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you can go to legal action.”
Sharp got involved when 13 employees older than 40 almost lost their jobs in May, he said. The city told them their positions were going to be eliminated.
They hired Sharp, and he sent the city a letter suggesting the cuts were age discrimination.
“Soon after that, they decided not to go forward with the layoffs,” Sharp said.
It’s a shame this is happening because Fort Lauderdale has “been down this road before,” Sharp said.
The city settled a discrimination lawsuit in 2003 with Elgin Jones, giving him $455,000. He claimed a 1997 exam for a promotion was manipulated to keep him from getting the job because he’s black.
“It was the same department, and it involves similar issues,” Sharp said. “We’d love to see the city change the environment to be better.”