Embattled CareerSource South Florida executive director Rick Beasley, already likely to face criticism week over alleged workplace bullying, has a new problem. Three current and former employees accuse him of religious discrimination.
CareerSource, the largest operation of its type in Florida, uses $70 million in state and federal funds to connect local employers and job seekers. This past July and August, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded multiple women working for Beasley had been “subjected to the same pattern of harassment, intimidation, exclusion, bullying... conditions due to their sex.”
Beasley has denied discriminating against the women in his office, saying, “I treat all men and women, black and white, fairly.” He did not return two calls seeking comment about the claims of religious discrimination. A Miami-Dade County spokesperson declined to comment, saying Beasley is a state employee. The state Department of Economic Opportunity also refused to respond, saying it had not received an official complaint.
One of those concerned about Beasley’s approach to religion is Daryl Rosenbaum, a former CareerSource director who is Jewish. He contends Beasley ordered him to work at a dragon boat race on a Saturday in 2007. When Rosenbaum said he couldn’t because it was the Jewish Sabbath and suggested moving the event to Sunday, Beasley refused. “He said, ‘No, that’s God’s day,’” Rosenbaum recalls. “I said, ‘And Saturday’s my God’s day,’ but it was like no one else’s beliefs mattered.”
Rosenbaum, like three other employees interviewed by New Times, says Beasley would lead three-to-five-minute prayers at the beginning of every staff meeting. Once, Rosenbaum says, he made a joke after Beasley mentioned Jesus in a prayer. “I said, ‘If Jesus is the only one who is perfect, how do you expect us to have a zero percent error rate?’” Rosenbaum recalls. “Beasley didn’t say anything and just glared at me.”
Not long after that disagreement, in 2008, Rosenbaum was fired. He claimed religious discrimination and filed a complaint with Miami-Dade’s Office of Human Rights and Fair Employment Practices. Like at least four women interviewed by New Times who had complained to the county about Beasley, however, he was rebuffed.
“If you’re Beasley, you think you’re God and you can say and do what you want,” Rosenbaum says.
Andrea Vanias, a former administrator, agrees. She estimates she attended six or seven meetings with Beasley where prayers were required. “It’s a blatant violation of church and state,” Vanias says, “and the law.”
Employees were allowed to leave the room during the prayer, but it was awkward. “No one’s going to walk out,” she says. “Everyone’s going to look at you like a demon child.”
She says Beasley promoted a religious atmosphere within the county agency. This year, Vanias filed an EEOC complaint against her supervisor — not Beasley — after he asked her if she believed in God. “I just looked at him like he was crazy. How is that appropriate?” she exclaims. The EEOC couldn’t corroborate her claims but told her she could sue. But, by then, Vanias had already been laid off and decided not to pursue the matter further.
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“Government supervisors cannot impose prayer on employees. It’s 100 percent unconstitutional,” says Andrew Seidel, a staff attorney at the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for division of church and state. “The government can’t force Jews and Muslims or anyone of any other religion to out themselves by stepping out during these prayers. Religion is not relevant in the workplace, and by imposing prayer, that makes it relevant.”
Seidel stresses that Beasley’s prayers can provoke religious discrimination. “If an employee steps out during a prayer and this supervisor takes note, how could that not effect their advancement and performance reviews?... That is coercion.”
A current employee, who asked that New Times not disclose her name for fear of retaliation, says she’s worked at CareerSource for four years and sat through dozens of prayers. She is not religious, and they always offend her. “When you go to work at a county office, you don’t expect to hear a prayer session, and you shouldn’t,” she says.
A CareerSource board of directors meeting is scheduled for this week at a convention center near the airport. A source says the controversy over Beasley’s behavior will likely be discussed.