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  1. Key West to settle religious discrimination suit by former bus driver History of theFantasy Fest
  2. A trial date has been set for a lawsuit between a former City of Key West Department of Transportation bus driver and the city, but a federal judge ordered both sides to attempt to resolve the case via mediation. Bobby Walker Jr. claims that he requested, via a letter dated Oct. 23, 2014, to the city manager’s office, that he not participate in the annual Fantasy Fest parade and that his “participation in the Fantasy Fest parade was contrary to his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness,” the lawsuit states. Walker claims his civil rights were violated, according to the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez has tentatively scheduled a trial date for Jan. 23 at the federal courthouse in Key West on Simonton Street. He also set the mediation deadline for Dec. 14, meaning if the case has not been resolved outside of court by then a trial is likely to begin by the January date. Walker claims that during a meeting with superiors, city management officials “openly mocked (Walker’s) religious beliefs and threatened to write up Walker for purportedly not giving enough time to change the schedule,” the lawsuit states. According to the employee handbook, drivers are required to give at least two hours’ notice of any schedule change request. Walker claims that his two-day notice was more than ample. “A manager treated Mr. Walker differently than persons who were not of Jehovah’s Witness faith by threatening to write Mr. Walker up for not giving him a 48-hour notice of his request for time off, although persons of other religions are only held to a two-hour minimum notice,” Walker’s attorney, Jay Paul Lechner of St. Petersburg, wrote to The Citizen seeking comment. “The same manager made comments to the effect ‘I’ve had enough of this religion stuff,’ and ‘You’re the only one’ causing problems due to religion. Managers also spread rumors to other employees about Mr. Walker, such as that Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘think they are better than others.’” With respect to Walker’s race — he is black — Lechner wrote: “A mechanic manager angrily called Mr. Walker a ‘damn boy’ and purposely locked him out of the break room used by white employees. A manager made a comment to another manager to the effect of ‘get rid of that black son-of-a-(deleted),’ referring to Mr. Walker.” Immediately after Walker’s meeting with superiors, his “hours were decreased and he was subjected to threats of losing his job, vindictive acts and derogatory comments about his race from other members of the management team,” according to the lawsuit. Walker claims he complained to higher-ups but no action was taken, according to the lawsuit. On or about Dec. 31, 2014, Walker again requested a shift change so that he would not have to work the late shift on New Year’s Eve, based on his religious beliefs, the lawsuit states. He was fired shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit. Walker is accusing the city of violating his civil rights under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as under the Florida Civil Rights Act. He is seeking back pay and benefits as well as his attorney’s fees and punitive damages.
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  3. In the coming days, more than 20,000 Jehovah's Witnesses will walk door to door from Key West to West Palm Beach, inviting neighbors to learn how they can cultivate brotherly love. It's particularly important in these times of global violence, terrorism and hate, they say. "The hatred we are seeing all over the world has impacted us as mankind," said Mike McBean, a Jehovah's Witness from Davie speaking at the convention. "We are going to focus on what Jesus taught and how he lived in dealing with hatred. One way is to love our enemies and not retaliate. If we live by that principle, hate will be diminished." The lessons of love and loyalty will be shared during three conventions at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, a free event open to the public. No collections will be taken. Source:
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  4. A federal judge has set a January trial date for a fired Key West bus driver suing the city for what he calls religious discrimination. Bobby Walker Jr. says the city fired him over a scheduling dispute that arose when he refused to work during the 2014 Fantasy Fest, citing his Jehovah's Witness beliefs against openly sexual displays that are routine at the annual 10-day October festival. Walker later asked for Dec. 31 off but was refused. After he failed to show up for work, the city fired him. The case is due for trial Jan. 23 in Key West before U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez. A mediation deadline is set for Dec. 14. The city's attorney, Michael Burke, says Walker has no case because he "did not have a sincere, bonafide religious belief that conflicted with his driving a bus on Oct. 25, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2014." Key West has policies and procedures in place to prevent and correct promptly any racial or religious harassment or retaliatory behavior, Burke wrote in court filings. Walker filed the suit March 3 in Key West, three months after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dismissed his claim. He is represented by attorneys Jason Melton of Spring Hill and Jay Paul Lechner of St. Petersburg. In his complaint, Walker, who is black, says city Transit Department heads mocked his religious beliefs and made derogatory comments about his race before firing him from the $13-an-hour job as retaliation for complaining. Walker worked as a temporary bus driver from May 27, 2014, until Jan. 2, 2015, earning an annual salary of $27,827, city staff said. Although the lawsuit doesn't go into detail about Jehovah's Witnesses, the church believes the Bible forbids premarital sex and sex should only be between one man and one woman after marriage. The church also warns its members to stay away from people who engage in the sex practices it disdains in order to remain morally clean. Source:
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  5. BY ADAM LINHARDT Citizen Staff alinhardt@keysnews.com A former City of Key West Department of Transportation bus driver has filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming his civil rights were violated due to his race and as a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. Bobby Walker Jr. claims that he requested, via a letter dated Oct. 23, 2014 to the city manager’s office, that he not participate in the annual Fantasy Fest parade and that his “participation in the Fantasy Fest parade was contrary to his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness,” the lawsuit states. He further claims that the next day, during a meeting with superiors, that city management officials “openly mocked (Walker’s) religious beliefs and threatened to write up Walker for purportedly not giving enough time to change the schedule,” the lawsuit states. According to the employee handbook, drivers are required to give at least two hours notice of any schedule change request. Walker claims that his two-day notice was more than ample. “A manager treated Mr. Walker differently than persons who were not of Jehovah’s Witness faith by threatening to write Mr. Walker up for not giving him a 48-hour notice of his request for time off, although persons of other religions are only held to a two-hour minimum notice,” Walker’s attorney, Jay Paul Lechner of St. Petersburg, wrote to The Citizen seeking comment. “The same manager made comments to the effect ‘I’ve had enough of this religion stuff,’ and ‘You’re the only one’ causing problems due to religion. Managers also spread rumors to other employees about Mr. Walker, such as that Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘think they are better than others.’” With respect to Walker’s race — he is black — Lechner wrote: “A mechanic manager angrily called Mr. Walker a ‘damn boy’ and purposely locked him out of the break room used by white employees. A manager made a comment to another manager to the effect of ‘get rid of that black son-of-a-(deleted),’ referring to Mr. Walker.” Immediately after Walker’s meeting with superiors, his “hours were decreased and he was subjected to threats of losing his job, vindictive acts and derogatory comments about his race from other members of the management team,” according to the lawsuit. Walker claims he complained to higher-ups, but no action was taken, according to the lawsuit. On or about Dec. 31, 2014, Walker again requested a shift change so that he would not have to work the late shift on New Year’s Eve, based on his religious beliefs, the lawsuit states. He was fired shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit. Walker is accusing the city of violating his civil rights under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as under the Florida Civil Rights Act. Michael Burke, the attorney who regularly represents the City of Key West in such cases, did not return a message seeking comment on Friday. Walker filed the lawsuit earlier this month before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez seeking back pay and benefits as well as his attorney’s fees and punitive damages. No tentative trial date has been set.
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