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Lawsuit settled for cash, rose garden

An ex-county employee ensures that two parks will flourish from her suit.

By WILL VAN SANT
Published August 25, 2006


It wasn't all about the money for Judy Yates. Really.

The discrimination settlement county leaders approved Tuesday with their former employee calls for a garden to be dedicated in Yates' name at Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo.

The plaque recognizing the Dr. Judy Yates Rose Garden will bear the inscription: Every Garden Begins With A Dream.

It's a sweet victory for Yates, a former director of the Pinellas County Extension and the Florida Botanical Gardens who was fired in October.

"People who are at that level of government should never think they are immune to the law and that they can do whatever they want," Yates said of those who fired her.

In 1982, Yates, now 58, became the county's extension director. The agency, a joint venture with the University of Florida, provides the public with programs on gardening, wildlife and agriculture.

In 2003, after a job she wanted went to Liz Warren, who is now an assistant county administrator, Yates filed a discrimination claim but did not pursue a lawsuit.

Yates said she was then targeted by supervisors. She responded by filing a second complaint, alleging retaliation. The county fired her, citing an inability to work cooperatively.

The firing was devastating, Yates said. At the time, she had run the extension center for more than 20 years and the botanical gardens since they were created in 2000.

So she filed her discrimination lawsuit as a matter of principle, she said.

That's a bit much for County Commissioner Bob Stewart to swallow. He was one of two board members who voted against approval of the settlement, saying Yates' claims of poor treatment are bogus.

In her recommendation of approval that was given to the board, County Attorney Susan Churuti urged members to settle the matter to avoid the cost of a trial and the need to subject many high-ranking employees to depositions.

There is some money in the settlement, about $60,000. Just over half is going to Yates' attorney. The rest goes to Yates for emotional damages.

But eventually, she said, the money would be returned in some way to the Florida Botanical Gardens, which she spent years struggling to create.

The gardens, she said, will be the sole beneficiary of her estate.

"After all," she said, "the gardens were my baby."

Will Van Sant can be reached at 445-4166 or vansant@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 25, 2006, 06:35:21]


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