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Recreation foreman files suit against city

After he complained about racial discrimination in the Largo Recreation, Parks and Arts Department, foreman Johny A. Pollock claims, other employees retaliated against him.

His workload increased, his work was intensely scrutinized and he received several unfair write-ups, according to a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County circuit court.

Pollock, who is black, filed the complaint Oct. 10. The city has not yet been served with the suit.

His attorney, Bonita Riggens, said he was hoping to have settlement or mediation talks. But on Thursday, she received an e-mail from City Attorney Alan Zimmet. He declined to engage in pre-litigation mediation.

"He hasn't lost any job benefits or pay; he hasn't been demoted or disciplined," Zimmet said Friday.

"All we wanted to do was to work something out so he could take an early retirement or stop the harassment," Riggens said.

Through his attorney, Pollock, 57, declined to comment.

The suit comes after more than a year of controversy over race at City Hall.

A racial slur in the Fire Department prompted city officials to revise the city's internal harassment and discrimination policy. The policy, which took effect this month, prohibits bias by any city employee at work, during business trips or at city functions.

Also, a police officer recently resigned during an investigation into whether he uttered a racial slur.

In the parks deparment in 2001 and 2002, according to Pollock's complaint, Pollock's co-workers told him that then-horticultural coordinator Gary McNichols used the word "n-----" when referring to Pollock.

The co-workers also said McNichols was taking things out of his truck so it would appear that Pollock was misplacing his tools and equipment.

On Feb. 13, 2002, Pollock complained about McNichols' behavior to parks Superintendent Greg Brown and Cathy Santa, then the recreation, parks and arts director.

Brown questioned employees and found that some were offended by the sexually explicit jokes McNichols posted on the bulletin board in the break room. Shortly after, McNichols was forced to resign in lieu of being fired in connection with sexual harassment allegations.

But Pollock alleges that Brown and foreman Terence Wojdan continued to harass him.

His complaint sparked an internal investigation that found more than 10 other employees who noticed McNichols' insensitive remarks.

The investigation found insufficient evidence to prove that Pollock was harassed. But McNichols' behavior "may have created a hostile work environment that belittled or demeaned all African Americans," the investigation report states.

Wojdan received a written reprimand for criticizing Pollock's competence. According to the report, Wojdan admitted that when discussing who might fill McNichols' position, he said "Johny could apply for it but it would take him 15 to 20 years to become educationally qualified."

An employee who read the investigation report then told officials that some of the comments were made after work at a softball game where employees drank. Brown was suspended for a week without pay for allowing those employees to drink.

In June 2002, Pollock filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC was unable to conclude any violations of statute and closed its investigation in July 2003. Brown declined to comment.

In his lawsuit and EEOC complaint, Pollock stated he has received unfavorable evaluations.

Pollock received a merit salary increase in April. He now makes $45,052.80.

In August, Pollock was suspended for three days for failing to carry out the delivery of tables, chairs and a grill.

"He is concerned that he is being set up for termination and he simply wants the harassment to end so he may perform his job in peace until retirement," Riggens wrote in a letter to City Manager Steven Stanton.

_ Shannon Tan can be reached at shtansptimes.com or 445-4174.

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