Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Settles Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York City
City Agrees to Pay Over $1.3 Million to Individual Employees to Resolve Lawsuit Alleging a Pattern or Practice of Racial Discrimination at the New York City Department of Transportation
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States settled a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the CITY OF NEW YORK (the “City”), and specifically the NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (“NYCDOT”), violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) by engaging in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination and retaliation in its Fleet Services unit (“Fleet Services”). The consent decree was approved yesterday by U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “For almost a decade, in clear violation of federal law, supervisors in New York City’s Department of Transportation engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against racial minorities. They tolerated the use of racial epithets, systematically excluded racial minorities from preferred assignments, and discriminated against minority candidates for promotions. 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. 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 Complaint, which was filed in Manhattan federal court on January 18, 2017, alleges that from at least October 2007 through May 2016, Fleet Services management engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. Fleet Services is a unit within NYCDOT that employs approximately 200 individuals in a range of trades, such as machinists, auto mechanics, electricians, blacksmiths, and engineers. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that:
As of October 2007, all personnel within Fleet Services reported to an individual (“Executive Director I”) who routinely and openly used racial epithets, such as “monkey,” “nigger,” and “gorilla” to describe African American employees. In addition to overseeing all of Fleet Services operations, Executive Director I also served as the Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) counselor to whom complaints of discrimination were directed. One illustrative example of Executive Director I’s conduct involved an incident where, in response to an African American employee’s request for a cell phone, Executive Director I stated, “that nigger gets nothing.”
In October 2009, NYCDOT’s EEO Office (“NYCDOT EEO”) received a complaint alleging that Executive Director I had engaged in race discrimination. In the course of investigating the complaint, NYCDOT EEO interviewed numerous current NYCDOT employees who stated that Executive Director I had routinely used racial epithets to describe African Americans. Following its investigation, NYCDOT EEO recommended that Executive Director I be demoted, suspended, and removed from his responsibilities as a NYCDOT EEO counselor. In response, Executive Director I chose to voluntarily retire. However, the Deputy Commissioner overseeing Fleet Services then promoted the individual who had been Executive Director I’s second-in-command (“Executive Director II”), who was complicit in the discrimination, to serve as the Executive Director of Fleet Services.
Beginning in 2010, and throughout his tenure, Executive Director II routinely and systematically excluded minorities from preferred assignments and special projects. Executive Director II instead exclusively chose white candidates for the assignments that would provide the best opportunity for further advancement within Fleet Services. Furthermore, at some point in 2010, and then again in 2013, NYCDOT took steps to promote auto mechanics to supervisory positions. In spite of a large number of minority applicants, including minority applicants who were already serving in a supervisory capacity within NYCDOT, only one minority candidate was ever selected for promotion. Rather, NYCDOT management actively took steps that discriminated against minority applicants and promoted the candidacy of white applicants. These steps included imposing new pretextual requirements for promotion and removing from decision-making those supervisors who advocated for minority candidates.
Throughout all time periods relevant to the Complaint, individuals who spoke out against the discriminatory practices at Fleet Services were subjected to retaliatory conduct by Executive Director II. Such retaliatory conduct included Executive Director II threatening to take an African American Fleet Services employee outside to “kick” his “fucking ass” when the employee complained about the discrimination in the promotion selection process. Several other members of Fleet Services’ executive leadership witnessed that threat and yet failed to take any action to discipline Executive Director II.
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Under the consent decree approved by the Court, the City has agreed to offer monetary compensation to 14 individuals who the City agrees are entitled to relief. These individuals are entitled to back pay and compensatory damages awards ranging from $60,000 to in excess of $168,000. In addition, the City has agreed to pay the complainant who brought this case to the attention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “Complainant”) a total of $150,000 in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees. The City will also offer the Complainant and two other minority candidates, all of whom were promoted by the City after the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed the City of its investigation, retroactive seniority benefits commensurate with having been promoted during the time period relevant to the Complaint. The consent decree also requires the City to take steps to ensure that it complies with Title VII in its future promotional selection processes.
As part of the consent decree, the City also stipulates to admissions of fact relating to the allegations in the Complaint. These admissions include that:
During a 2009 investigation into allegations of racial discrimination, employees reported to the City that Executive Director I had used racial epithets to describe African American employees and had taken personnel actions that were motivated by racial animus.
At the time of his retirement, Executive Director I had never been subject to any formal disciplinary sanctions imposed by the City.
During the time he served as the Executive Director of Fleet Services, Executive Director II instructed the Complainant’s direct supervisor to reassign Complainant’s supervisory duties to a non-minority auto mechanic who had fewer years of experience as an auto mechanic than Complainant. Executive Director II gave this instruction over the expressed preference of Complainant’s direct supervisor.
During Executive Director II’s tenure, non-minority applicants were selected for promotion over minority applicants, even when the minority applicants had more years of automotive experience and had been serving in a supervisory capacity without commensurate compensation or title.
When management employees challenged Executive Director II’s promotional decisions, they were removed from the promotional decision-making process. Moreover, when a non-management employee accused Executive Director II of discriminating against racial minorities within Fleet Services, Executive Director II verbally threatened the employee, including a threat of physical violence. This verbal threat of physical violence was made in the presence of several other supervisory personnel within Fleet Services.
Up until June 2, 2016, the date on which the City was informed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had conducted an investigation regarding the allegations in the Complaint, Executive Director II continued to serve as the Executive Director of Fleet Services.
Mr. Kim thanked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for its initial investigation of the Complaint.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Jessica Jean Hu is in charge of the case.