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2 Hispanic Groups' Feud Spills Over Into Courts

By Walter Pacheco | Sentinel Staff Writer

11 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

A dispute between two well-known Hispanic community organizations has landed in court, with one group even saying it is being denied use of the office toilet.

Danny Ramos of Hispanic Achievers filed an injunction last week against Latino Leadership; its president, Marytza Sanz; and her husband, Carlos Guzmán, alleging that Sanz and her volunteers have denied him access to the bathroom they share, forcing him instead to use the nearby Burger King facilities. The injunction seeks to keep Latino Leadership from interfering with Ramos' mail, courier delivery, business and the office bathroom.

Ramos also filed a police report in October alleging that a Latino Leadership volunteer pushed him.

Hispanic Achievers and Latino Leadership share the Hispanic Office of Local Assistance, which was created by the city of Orlando to help Central Florida Hispanics find jobs and learn English, among other services.

City officials said they are aware of the arguments but have declined to offer much help because they consider the dispute "petty" and potentially damaging to their reputations.

"All this commotion over a bathroom seems awfully petty to me," said Commissioner Betty Wyman, who along with Sanz and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer inaugurated the opening of HOLA in March. "These are two groups that are known for helping our local Hispanics, but fighting over a toilet is not going to help either of them or their cause."

Latino Leadership has served Orlando for about 20 years with successful annual job and health fairs, and has sponsored a computer lab in its office to help Hispanics learn basic computer and English skills.

Ramos created Hispanic Achievers nearly 24 years ago in New York and has been in Central Florida since 1997, helping Hispanics find employment.

Ramos said the quarrel between the two organizations began when Latino Leadership refused to hand over a copy of the bathroom keys, forcing him and other employees either to wait or use a bathroom elsewhere, such as the nearby Burger King.

"Everyday, Ramos must make a decision: to go or not to go. If he decides to go, he must leave the building and find a public bathroom open to him," according to court records.

Guzmán argues that it was the city's responsibility to duplicate the keys and that finding an outside bathroom was unnecessary.

"These were not our keys to copy," Guzmán said. "If someone asks for the keys, we'll be happy to lend them out, and we have in the past. But Ramos has never come over to ask for them."

The city's real-estate manager, Laurie Botts-Wright, said Latino Leadership was given the only set of keys because it was the first group to move into the office. After Ramos' complaints to Wyman, Botts-Wright copied the keys and handed them to Ramos.

"Now both groups have sets of keys, and that should end the problem," Botts-Wright said.

But access to the bathroom has not solved the problem.

Ramos alleges that a Latino Leadership volunteer removed pamphlets from his office. According to the October police report, Ramos followed her into the Latino Leadership office to retrieve them and was pushed as he walked out. No one was charged.

"Frankly, I'm tired of this treatment and being harassed by [Latino Leadership] and their volunteers. I want people to see how they really are," Ramos said. "I decided to seek legal action because it's the only way [Latino Leadership] will leave me in peace."

Sanz said the arguments about a toilet are overblown and that a simple stroll over to her office would resolve the dispute.

"It's a shame that this has grown to this length between two Hispanic groups that are looking out for the well-being of other Hispanics," Sanz said. "However, we are not going to stay quiet. If this is the path Ramos is taking, then we will seek legal action against him as well. In the meantime, I'm not letting this distract me from my focus, which is helping the Hispanic community."

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