Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando Public Works employee claims racial harassment in EEOC complaint

BROOKSVILLE — A couple of weeks before Halloween, county Public Works employee Luke Sanders got into a fight with a co-worker. He was arrested, charged with battery and booked into the county jail.

Five days later, the 30-year-old maintenance worker filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging the county has failed to take action to ease the hostile work environment created by the co-worker's frequent racial harassment.

A mediation hearing is set for January, but county officials hope to broker a deal with Sanders to drop the complaint, said Cheryl Marsden, director of administrative services.

"We're trying to work to see if we can get it resolved before it goes that far," Marsden said.

Among the concessions the county hopes to make is to transfer Sanders, of Tampa, to a different position in the same department to separate him from the co-worker, 45-year-old Brooksville resident Baron Wood, an equipment operator.

Sanders could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

Wood is not mentioned by name in the complaint. Sanders states that he notified supervisors in August 2010 that a "co-worker" was subjecting him to racial harassment.

"The employer investigated, but took no action, saying the accusation could not be substantiated," Sanders wrote.

Employees interviewed at the time did not corroborate Sanders' allegations, Marsden said.

In October 2010, the complaint states, the same co-worker shouted another racist insult and was given a written warning. According to Marsden, Wood was given a warning in November after an investigation found that he called Sanders "boy."

On Oct. 13 of this year, Sanders states in the complaint, the co-worker twice called him a racial slur.

According to a Brooksville Police report, two witnesses saw Sanders push Wood in an office of the Public Works headquarters on E Jefferson Street that morning. Sanders then began to kick Wood while he was on the ground, the witnesses said.

Sanders told police he didn't react the first time Wood called him the name. The second time, Sanders said, he pushed Wood, who then took a swing at him. Sanders said he then pushed Wood and held his face against the wall. He denied kicking Wood.

Police determined Sanders was the aggressor and arrested him. He was charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery, booked and released the same day on $1,000 bail.

Both men were suspended without pay for one week for having a physical altercation in the workplace, Marsden said.

"We felt that is wasn't just one-sided, so we decided to make it the same discipline for both," she said.

Sanders pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month. His next court hearing is Dec. 15.

Employees can file a complaint if they suspect they've been discriminated against because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or age. Complaints are often addressed in mediation. If not, or if mediation fails, an EEOC investigator will take the case, according to the commission's website.

If an investigation finds a violation, the commission seeks a voluntary settlement with the employer. If that fails, the case goes to the commission's legal staffers to decide whether the agency should file a lawsuit. The employee can sue if the commission opts not to.

County officials should have taken firmer action against Wood to demonstrate that racial harassment will not be tolerated, said Paul Douglas, president of the Hernando County branch of the NAACP.

"They really didn't put their foot down and say, 'Cut this out,' " Douglas said. "The county should say, 'If we hear that word again, you're gone,' and they won't say that."

Sanders should have been fired that day for pushing him, Wood told the Times Wednesday.

Wood denies using the slur.

"I'm far from being racist, I'll tell you that right now," Wood said. "The problem lies with Luke Sanders. He's the one that's racist. He's had problems with a lot of people, and he's dealt the race card lots of times, and he threw it at me."

Racial discord has plagued another county department in recent years.

Staffers in the Utilities Department were reprimanded and lost their jobs over racial comments made to two workers in 2008. Those strained work relationships cost the county's insurance carrier tens of thousands of dollars in settlement money.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or

Hernando Public Works employee claims racial harassment in EEOC complaint 11/30/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 7:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Would you let your company implant a chip in you?

    Working Life

    Would you ask an employee to get a chip implanted in her hand? Sounds invasive and intrusive. But come Aug. 1, one company in Wisconsin will be giving it a try.

    Three Square Market - a developer of software used in vending machines - is offering all of its employees the option to get a microchip implanted between the thumb and forefinger. [Photo from video]
  2. Florida taxpayers to shoulder $1.1 million in legal fees over 'docs vs. glocks' law

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida will pay $1.1 million in legal fees to attorneys who challenged a controversial state law that sought to prevent doctors from asking patients about guns, a group representing opponents said Monday.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed the 2011 law after it "was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature," a spokesman said Monday.
[Photo by Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
  3. Daniel Lipton resigns as artistic director of Opera Tampa


    TAMPA — Daniel Lipton has resigned as artistic director of Opera Tampa, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts announced.

    Daniel Lipton became the artistic director and conductor of Opera Tampa in 2012. Lipton replaced the opera's only previous director, Anton Coppola, who retired. [Times file (2012)]
  4. Two Ricks deliver video to AARP voter guide


    Last week, AARP Florida was a little ticked off that neither Mayor Rick Kriseman or former mayor Rick Baker had delivered video responses to a voter education campaign.

    The two Ricks have delivered their AARP videos
  5. Throwback Tampa Bay station 102.9 goes from R&B jams to WFLA-AM's conservative talk


    Talk radio station WFLA-AM (970) began simulcasting on 102.9 FM in the Tampa area this morning. 

    Tampa's 102.9 is going from Throwback Tampa Bay to WFLA-AM's news radio.