At around 2 a.m. on February 21, 2021, City of Miami code inspector Suzann Nicholson bumped into a familiar face while investigating an illegal party in Allapattah: Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla.
Wearing a dark-colored suit and a mask decorated with the city emblem, Diaz de la Portilla was standing inside what appeared to be a VIP area when Nicholson began asking questions about the venue. She later alleged that as she attempted to look into the curfew-defying event, the commissioner pushed her, causing her to fall and injure her hip.
Citing police body-cam footage that did not appear to show any physical altercation between the two, Diaz de la Portilla accused Nicholson of lying and she countered with a lawsuit. A month later, in May 2021, the city fired her, saying she’d failed to cooperate with its investigation into the matter.
Now Nicholson, a Black woman, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing city officials of retaliating against her and repeatedly subjecting her to racial, gender, and sex discrimination during her 16-year tenure.
In the complaint filed on January 3, Nicholson alleges that her coworkers and superiors made comments such as “put her where her people are in Liberty City” and called her the N-word. She accuses the city of firing her because she’s Black, gay, a woman, and has a history of disabilities.
The lawsuit also reiterates Nicholson’s previous allegations that Diaz de la Portilla made derogatory comments at the February event, including saying “her kind” was not welcome there.
Neither the city nor Nicholson’s attorneys, Jeffrey Fedna and Arthur Mandel, responded to emailed requests for comment for this story. In response to New Times‘ request for comment, Diaz de la Portilla, who previously called for Nicholson’s firing and denied the accusations, texted, “I only respond to journalists.”
Nicholson was hired in 2004 as a customer service representative. According to the lawsuit, she was repeatedly mistreated by her co-workers and superiors, including being ruled ineligible for a promotion she applied for, despite meeting all the requirements, and learning that after she first applied to work for the city, officials deleted and reposted the role she was applying for to list requirements previously not included.
The lawsuit also claims Nicholson’s co-workers harassed and created a hostile work environment for her by calling her “sir” and asking “Why is your hair like that? You are a woman.”
In addition to accusations about the treatment she received during her tenure, the lawsuit alleges that Diaz de la Portilla questioned her presence at the after-curfew party and saying, “Ella está arrogante sin razón” (“She is arrogant for no reason”).
Police body-cam footage captured the commissioner attempting to dissuade Nicholson from investigating, insisting he’d handle things.
“If you could just walk away, please…I will call the city manager in the morning. So I need you to walk away now. Thank you,” he says. (The body-cam audio is muted at least three times during the 25-minute clip. At one point, a Miami police officer is seen asking his fellow officers whether their cameras are muted before the audio cuts out.)
Notably, the lawsuit alleges that when Nicholson called her former supervisor, assistant director of code compliance Eric Nemons, to tell him the commissioner was present at the party, he insructed her to destroy all photographic evidence she had of the event. He allegedly told Nicholson, “We’re supposed to keep our politicians safe.”
Nemons, the suit claims, was later promoted to acting director of the Department of Code Compliance. His LinkedIn profile shows that he filled the role until July, and was named assistant director of code compliance in January.
Nemons didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.