A former affirmative action officer who was fired after claiming the city was engaging in discriminatory practices can sue the city as a whistleblower, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The ruling revives a lawsuit filed by Deborah Rice-Lamar, the affirmative action officer whose reports of discrimination were a precursor to Fort Lauderdale’s troubles with the issue. Rice-Lamar claimed she was fired in 1996 because she was trying to expose racial discrimination problems in city government.
She sued in federal court, alleging discrimination was the reason she was dismissed from her job. When she lost that case, she went to state court and claimed her firing was retaliatory.
In 2000, Broward Circuit Judge W. Herbert Moriarty dismissed the whistleblower lawsuit, concluding that the issues had already been dealt with in the federal discrimination suit.
The 4th District Court of Appeal disagreed in its opinion released Wednesday.
“The fact that the federal court determined that she was terminated for insubordination has no bearing on whether she was retaliated against for her disclosure of alleged discriminatory practices by the city,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, summary judgment … was not proper.”
Rice-Lamar’s lawyer, Reginald Clyne, hailed the ruling as a blow to the city.
“The only case the city has won was this one,” said Clyne, who represents several other current and former employees with discrimination complaints against the city. “And now they just lost it.”
Clyne expects to be back in court soon to resume the lawsuit.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the city said it thinks the appeals court ruling is “legally incorrect” and that it is reviewing its options for additional appellate review. The city also noted that the 4th DCA decision has no impact on the federal court finding that no discrimination occurred and Lamar was fired for insubordination.