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Black city workers accuse Long Beach of racial discrimination

A man has been accused of stealing batteries. Another was the only black director among seven service directors. A woman remained in the same unclassified position, at the risk of losing her job at any time, for 19 years. One of them was told that she was one of the “problem children” in her department. And another had her raise revoked due to an alleged error in the salary calculation.

These are the complaints of a group of current and former Black Long Beach employees who this week filed a class action lawsuit against the city, alleging a system of racial discrimination that has held them back in their jobs.

Christopher Stuart, Eric Bailey, Deborah Hill, Sharon Hamilton and Donnell Russell Jauregui claim the city has disproportionately kept black employees in lower paid and ungraded positions, has rejected their demands for promotion and equal pay and created an “anti-black culture” among city workers.

“Black city workers have been meeting backstage for years, literally years, and discussing this hostile work environment, wage discrimination [and] promoting discrimination between them, desperately trying to find a way forward, ”said Shauna Madison, one of the lawyers for the group. “Finally, all of this was revealed. “

The class action lawsuit currently lists five plaintiffs, but Madison said she expected it to rise to around 1,000 once other current and former employees in the city hear about it.

Long Beach public affairs director Kevin Lee said the city has yet to receive legal documentation of the case, but said in a written statement: “The city of Long Beach is committed to maintaining a workplace without discrimination for all city employees. and job applicants and is proud of its diverse workforce.

The plaintiffs seek “a truth and reconciliation commission to heal the racial trauma inflicted by the city, a revamped job analysis and evaluation policy, wage arrears for past wage inequalities, a process of investigating Trauma-informed complaints and racial justice oversight, ”the lawsuit says.

Felicia Medina, another lawyer for the group, said the commission would be in line with the city’s year-long efforts to tackle its own history with racism. Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, the city launched a reconciliation effort called “the frame”. It outlines four steps to tackling racism as a public health crisis: recognize systemic inequalities, listen to the community, bring stakeholders together to determine policies, and catalyze by action. Lee said the framework includes 21 strategies and 107 potential action plans to address racial equity.

The trial of the black employees, Medina said, would be part of that first step.

“[The] The main demand is that people speak their own truth and do not have it erased by the legal system, do not have it erased by the rulers and must not have suffered in silence, ”said Medina. “This is reconciliation, this is healing.”

Stuart is the only black person in his division of the city’s technology and innovation department, where he has worked since 2014, according to the lawsuit. He says during that time he was not paid fairly, sometimes doing the work of two or three people while only getting paid for one. Court records also show that Stuart’s supervisor John Black has repeatedly degraded him in ways his non-Black colleagues have not known – cursing him, claiming he was not working, placing him on a performance improvement plan for “a bad attitude”. and, in one case, accusing him of stealing batteries.

“Leadership is blatantly racist and it is troubling to work in an environment like this,” Stuart said in a statement. “No one should have to work in these conditions where your basic humanity is called into question.”

Several of the complainants described being ignored for promotions and seeing non-Black candidates being hired. Two said they had to take advancement exams administered by the Wonderlic Company, tests which the lawsuit said are designed with racial bias against blacks.

The lawsuit cites a 2018 report on demographics at the Civic Center, showing that 65% of black city employees are paid less than $ 60,000 per year, compared to 34% of white city employees who fall into this salary bracket. In 2018, 9% of blacks who applied for classified positions in the city were hired, while 33% of white applicants, 45% of Latinx applicants, and 13% of Asian job seekers were hired.

The city’s overall workforce – 13% of whom are black – more closely resembles the national demographics. Blacks or African Americans make up 13% of the American population, according to the Census Bureau.

Bailey said that after 20 years in the public works department and several requests for promotion, he was given a new title: Waste Supervisor – a lower paid classification that he reported to his union. His superiors then retaliated, according to the lawsuit, by issuing a disciplinary letter against him and another employee for authorizing union activity during a lunch break. The letter was removed from the personnel file of the other union representative – a white employee – but Bailey’s remained on file, court documents show.

“My non-black predecessor had the right title and salary. And another of my non-black peers was promoted twice before me, ”Bailey said in a statement. “Street sweepers are 50% black, but only one in seven of the management team is black. This is wrong and it must stop.

After a 35-year career with the city, he retired in February.

Hill said she had been maintained in an unclassified role – described by her lawyer as a position with “little or no job security” – throughout her 19-year career as a typist and secretary. Hill looked for promotions several times, according to the lawsuit, when several of her non-Black colleagues were promoted before her.

Some of the employee complaints have already been documented in discrimination complaints and lawsuits. Hamilton has seen two of his colleagues in the Civil Service Department file a racial discrimination lawsuit against their former executive director, Kandice Taylor-Sherwood. The boss “separated” the three black employees from the rest of the office, denying them training and excluding them from work opportunities, so that other colleagues joked that they were “problem children,” according to him. court documents. Taylor-Sherwood resigned in 2018, and the case was settled for $ 701,000, on Long Beach Post reported.

Russell Jauregui also described a hostile work environment with Taylor-Sherwood, who she says has repeatedly rejected her requests for promotion and raise. After seven years, a black manager promoted Russell Jauregui to the post of administrative assistant. But within two weeks, Russell Jauregui was told the raise was a mistake and she had to take a pay cut. The city later said his lower pay was “more than fair,” the lawsuit says.

“It is not acceptable to continue to subject black employees to unfair and oppressive working conditions,” Russell Jauregui said in a statement. “The city and its leaders continue to show a reckless disregard for our humanity by subjecting us to professional standards that are lower than the basic standards of business practice: inclusion, fairness, fairness and supportive leadership. The city has also failed to provide oversight to supervisors and managers who continue to negatively impact our daily working lives. “

Lee said the city will “thoroughly review the case” once it is presented.

“The city reaffirms its commitment that no person is discriminated against on the basis of race or any other protected class,” he said in a statement to The Times.

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