Former Hallandale Beach employee says she was required to take accent reduction course to get promotion

(WSVN) - Hearing someone speak with an accent is not unusual in South Florida, so one city employee was shocked when she was told to get rid of hers. 7’s Brian Entin has our special report “War of Words.”

It’s a South Florida city with controversies piling up.

Mayor Keith London (during August meeting): “My colleague is an out and outright liar.”

Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub (during August meeting): “Tell him it’s not appropriate. Step in. Shame on you!”

Hallandale Beach city commission meetings are more like shouting matches.

There have also been allegations of bribes and dirty politics.

An FBI investigation even led to a former mayor’s arrest on corruption charges.

But out of the public eye, there has been no shortage of drama either.

Brian Entin: “Is it even worse behind the scenes?”

Lina Duran, former Hallandale Beach employee: “Of course it is, of course it is.”

Lina Duran was the business development coordinator for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

Duran says she was in line for a promotion, but the opportunity came with a catch: She first had to take a course to reduce her accent.

Lina Duran: “Accent reduction course, which was also very humiliating for my heritage. I am Latin. I have a strong accent. I’m proud of my accent.”

Duran was born in Colombia and has a master’s degree from NYU.

She says the city manager, Roger Carlton, required her to take the accent reduction classes.

Lina Duran: “He said, ‘Yeah, remember the promotion that we discussed? That will be very important for your promotion, and of course I will pay for it, but your accent is just very strong and I cannot deal with it.'”

Duran says she reluctantly took the course, which cost taxpayers $500.

Lina Duran: “It was every Saturday. Yes, you have homework, and it’s a very intense class.”

Brian Entin: “So how common is a course like this for public employees? We checked with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Both say they have never required an employee to take accent reduction classes.”

Brian Entin: “Did anyone ever complain about her accent?”

Jason Alderman, attorney: “No one ever complained about her accent. Her accent had been the same for years.”

Duran hired an attorney and has filed a discrimination complaint against Hallandale Beach.

She says she was also “routinely referred to as the ‘Colombian Queen,'” and even compared to a Great Dane dog at work.

She resigned late last year.

Lina Duran: “The situation started to escalate. The comments became even more inappropriate.”

Hallandale Beach told 7News: “Ms. Duran is obviously seeking a financial settlement from the city. The city has already investigated her allegations of harassment and found no evidence to support them.”

The city also directed us to this…

Lina Duran (in video of May 2017 meeting): “Chair, vice-chair, board members. Lina Duran, Business Development Coordinator.”

A May 2017 meeting where Duran was giving a presentation.

Lina Duran (in video of May 2017 meeting): “That’s, of course, the map of Hallandale Beach.”

The closed captioning system said “indiscernible” and “accent” while she spoke.

Lina Duran (in video of May 2017 meeting): “That will be up to the executive director to negotiate with the developers and see what is a good deal to bring forward.”

The city manager, who Duran says required her to take the class, left Hallandale Beach this year but told us in an email: “It is clear that the alleged requirement to take the class was only a suggestion and any other interpretation can only be viewed as an attempt to disparage my character.”

Lina Duran: “There is nothing wrong with an accent.”

Duran and the city have tried mediation, but the city says this “War of Words” is headed to court.

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