New York City to Pay $1.3M for Race Bias in Fleet Services Unit

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By Patrick Dorrian

Fourteen black employees of the New York City Department of Transportation’s Fleet Services unit will receive a combined $1.3 million for the race discrimination and harassment they faced in their jobs ( United States v. City of New York , S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-00364, consent decree approved 6/14/17 ).

The payments include additional awards totaling $220,000 to Seupersaud Bharat, the employee who filed the discrimination charge that prompted the U.S. Justice Department’s January lawsuit against the city. In addition to the monetary payments, Bharat and two other black employees whose promotions were delayed based on race will receive retroactive seniority benefits under a consent decree approved June 14 by a federal judge in Manhattan. The NYCDOT also agreed to fill future supervisory mechanic positions in the fleet unit in accordance with state civil service law.

The DOJ’s lawsuit alleged that the fleet services unit under the direction of two successive executive directors engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination in assignments and promotions against black machinists, auto mechanics, and similar trade employees for nearly a decade—from at least October 2007 through May 2016. One of the executive directors also regularly and openly hurled racial epithets in the workplace, the DOJ asserted.

The agreement was announced June 15 by the DOJ, which also faulted NYCDOT for failing to respond adequately to employee discrimination complaints. The executive director under whom the pattern of bias began and who called workers “nigger,” monkey,” and gorilla” was allowed to retire rather than face discipline, the DOJ said. His second in command was then given the job, perpetuating the chain for discrimination, it said.

“When the discrimination was brought to the attention of the Department of Transportation’s management, they inexcusably failed to take proper corrective action, and retaliated against those brave enough to speak out,” acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim said in the DOJ’s statement announcing the pact. “This type of workplace discrimination is unacceptable, plain and simple, not now, not ever. This settlement reflects the Office’s continued commitment to vigorously enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws.”

“The City fully cooperated with the USAO’s investigation to reach a fair resolution to this longstanding case,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Law, told Bloomberg BNA in a June 16 email.

City Admits Some Allegations

The NYCDOT under the decree admitted to some of the DOJ’s allegations, including that the second executive director had Bharat’s supervisory duties reassigned to a nonminority auto mechanic with less experience despite opposition to the move from Bharat’s direct supervisor.

And like other black employees, Bharat was passed over for promotion in favor of less experienced nonminority applicants, the NYCDOT acknowledged.

In addition, the second executive director during a 2009 investigation by the NYCDOT’s EEO office at first denied that his predecessor used racist language in the workplace before changing his story three days later, according to the decree.

Jessica J. Hu of the U.S. attorney’s office in New York represented the DOJ. Andrea M. O’Connor of the New York City Department of Law’s Office of Corporation Counsel represented the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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