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Race Discrimination Suit Against NYC Department of Transportation Settles For $1.3 Million

Lev Craig

On June 15, 2017, U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York approved the parties’ consent decree in United States v. City of New York, a race discrimination case brought against the City of New York and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in January 2017, alleged that NYCDOT management violated Title VII by systematically discriminating against racial minorities over a nearly ten-year period.

According to the complaint, the NYCDOT “engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination and retaliation based on the failure to promote minority employees” within the Fleet Services unit, an NYCDOT division responsible for maintaining NYCDOT vehicles such as trucks, passenger cars, and heavy machinery. The complaint described a “culture of fear and intimidation” created by nearly a decade of discrimination and retaliation against minority employees in the Fleet Services Unit, perpetrated primarily by two NYCDOT executive directors.

The directors allegedly referred to African-American employees with racist epithets like “n*gger” and “monkey”; gave preferential treatment to white employees in promotions, hiring, and project assignments, including promoting less experienced white individuals over more qualified minority candidates and changing hiring procedures to disadvantage racial minorities; and retaliated against employees who complained of discrimination by cutting their hours and even physically threatening them.

In 2015, Seupersaud Bharat, an NYCDOT auto mechanic of East Indian descent, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that the Fleet Services Unit had refused to promote him based on his race and national origin. The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that the NYCDOT had discriminated against Bharat in violation of Title VII and subsequently referred the matter to the DOJ, which then began investigating Bharat’s claims. In January 2017, the DOJ filed suit against the City of New York and the NYCDOT on behalf of Bharat and other racial minority employees in the Fleet Services Unit.

The consent decree approved last week will require the City of New York and the NYCDOT to pay a combined $1.3 million settlement payment to fourteen NYCDOT employees, three of whom will also receive retroactive seniority benefits as compensation for the NYCDOT’s failure to promote them. Bharat, as the employee who filed the initial charge of discrimination with the EEOC, will receive an award of $220,000 in addition to back pay and other damages.

Besides the monetary compensation to be paid to Fleet Services Unit employees, the consent decree also requires the NYCDOT to implement protocols intended to prevent similar patterns of discrimination in the future. Under the terms of the decree, the NYCDOT must show that it fully investigates and responds to all discrimination claims filed with the NYCDOT’s Equal Employment Opportunities Office and must adopt promotion and transfer procedures designed to avoid race discrimination. To fulfill this requirement, the City of New York must present routine reports to the federal government, indicating the names and races of NYCDOT employees who have been transferred or promoted into supervisor positions and detailing the NYCDOT’s procedure for deciding and effecting those transfers or promotions.

If your employer has discriminated against you based on your race, including refusing to promote you, or has retaliated against you because you complained about discrimination, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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