FORT LAUDERDALE – A city of Fort Lauderdale mechanic has been suspended without pay for hanging a noose in a public works facility.
Leslie “Les’’ Vargas, 64, of North Lauderdale, a utilities mechanic, has been repairing electric motors and industrial water pumps in the city’s water plants and well fields for over 22 years.
The Feb. 2 incident involving Vargas happened in the city’s central maintenance shop at a public works facility located at 4250 NW 10 Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.
The incident came to light after several black employees complained to a supervisor about the noose, which hung above a work bench for an unspecified amount of time.
Efforts to reach Vargas have been unsuccessful.
City officials have declined comment.
“Employee will receive and serve a thirty (30) calendar day suspension beginning March 1, 2010,” reads a city disciplinary settlement dated Feb. 15 that was signed by Vargas. “At the completion of the suspension Employee shall complete a course component equivalent to 6 hours of ethnic studies, which is found to be sufficient by the Office of Professional Standards.”
Several workers took photographs of the noose, and the supervisor removed it.
Vargas earns an annual salary $58,947.20, and also serves as a crew leader who supervises other employees, including African Americans. Many African Americans associate nooses with segregation-era lynching and racial intolerance.
In addition to the disciplinary settlement, Vargas has also signed a “last chance agreement,” which effectively serves as his unconditional resignation if he engages in similar activities.
“The Employee understands and agrees that, should he/she fail or refuse to comply with any provision of this Agreement or with any provision of the Settlement Agreement signed in this particular disciplinary action, or commit a violation of any Policy and Standards Manual sections regarding Equal Employment Opportunity or Discrimination and/or Harassment in the future, Employee will be considered as having voluntarily resigned his employment with the City.”
This is not the first race-related complaint that has been filed against Vargas. He was also accused of having a dark-colored doll or gorilla hanging from a noose in the workplace in 2007, but those allegations could not be substantiated, city officials said.
On the morning after Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first African-American president, Vargas lowered the American flag in front of the city facility where he works to half staff, apparently in protest of the election results. He was issued a counseling slip over that incident.
In addition to being required to take sensitivity training, Vargas voluntarily wrote an apology.
“It was bought [sic] to my attention that an employee or employees where [sic] affended [sic] by the rope tied in the mech. [mechanic] shop and left on the tool hanger,” Vargas wrote in a Feb. 3 apology.
“If I offened [sic] anyone I am sorry in the future I will be more sensitive to other peoples feelings. But I met [sic] no harm or malice to anyone.”
One employee who witnessed the incident, but has requested anonymity, disagreed.
“That’s just not true, because he has done this and other things before,” the worker said. “They covered it up, just like they are trying to do this.”
Pictured above is Leslie Vargas.