In October of that year, after once again obtaining a right to sue notice from the EEOC, Yates filed a federal lawsuit claiming age discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. A spokeswoman for Pinellas County said officials there did not wish to speak for this article, but in response to the suit, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners denied engaging in the unlawful employment practices that Yates alleged. Tracey Jaensch, the lawyer hired by the county to defend the suit, told MORE that the woman who won the promotion was "also over 40, if not by much," as was Yates’s replacement. In the summer of 2006, after depositions had begun, the county offered a settlement of $60,000. The money was enough to cover Yates’s deposition and attorney fees, with about $20,000 left over. And although she didn’t get exactly what she wanted — an admission of guilt and an apology — Yates did receive a measure of satisfaction from another concession in the settlement. In a small, fragrant rose garden within the rambling, 160-acre Florida Botanical Gardens, an illuminated bronze plaque reads: DR. JUDY YATES ROSE GARDEN . . . EVERY GARDEN BEGINS WITH A DREAM. Dedicating the space to her was the county’s idea, she says: "They knew the garden would be a very enticing thing for me." Yates now works part-time as an environmental consultant. And because she lives just two miles from the garden, she visits several times a week to work as a volunteer. Each glance at the plaque gives her a sense of vindication, as if she’s received a public apology for what she says was her forced early retirement.
"This was never about money," she says. "It was about what was right and what was wrong."
Amy Engeler is a freelance writer in New York City. After looking into cases of workplace bias, she says she feels fortunate to be self-employed.
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Originally published in MORE magazine, November 2008.