United States of America v. City of Venice, Florida

Court: 11th Circuit
Case Number: 20-cv-02161
Decision Date: September 15, 2020
Case Type: Civil Rights

This suit involved a race discrimination claim against the city. The claimant 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.

The United States’ complaint alleged that 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 court heard that the city 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.

The parties reached a settlement agreement by which the city must pay Williamson $195,000 for lost wages and compensatory damages. The settlement agreement also required 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.