Follow by Email

Monday, November 30, 2009

City pays $145,000 in bias case

Former ITS director claimed reverse discrimination played role in firing.

Updated 11:26 PM Thursday, November 19, 2009

DAYTON — The Dayton City Commission has agreed to pay a $145,000 settlement to an employee who claims reverse discrimination played a role in his firing.

William E. Hill, once the city’s director of Information and Technology Services, is white. He was fired by former City Manager Rashad Young, who is black.

City officials and Young declined to comment on the award. Hill’s attorney also did not respond to a request for an interview.

Hill’s personnel file and a 13-page investigative report commissioned by the city pieced together with the lawsuit Hill filed in Montgomery County Commons Pleas Court tell a tale of two men who started out working cordially together.

Hill worked for the city since 1980, including 17 years as a police officer. In 1997, he became the director of ITS.

Hill also continued activities as a sworn officer first with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and later as a special deputy in Greene County.

Young, then deputy director of ITS and still working his way up the ranks at City Hall, reported to Hill.

But, before he left to take a job in Cincinnati in 2002, Young was named acting assistant city manager. Hill claims Young urged him to hire his step-grandfather, Charles Evans, as deputy director of ITS, according to the lawsuit. Hill acted on Young’s suggestion.

When Young returned to Dayton in 2005 as an assistant city manager, he was given authority over the ITS department, including Hill and Evans.

“Caught between grandfather and grandson, Hill began to experience difficulties with Evans and in his relationship with those above him in city management,” the lawsuit states.

Problems escalated when Hill issued a reprimand to Evans for violation of the city’s sick leave policy.

“Evans exploded in response, accused Hill of being a racist, indicated he would take the matter to his grandson, and threatened that Hill’s employment would be terminated ...,” according to the lawsuit.

A 2005 work review in Hill’s employment file found him to be superior in terms of technical competence, but “unacceptable in terms of judgment, management style and execution.”

Then-City Manager James Dinneen concluded Hill should be fired based on these deficiencies. Young persuaded Dinneen to give Hill a poor review and no raise.

In March 2005, city officials told Hill he must quit working for the Greene County sheriff or lose his city job, in accordance with the City Charter.

Hill claimed former City Manager Valerie Lemmie orally promised him he could remain a sworn officer and he appealed the decision to the city’s Code of Ethics Committee (of which Young was a member). Hill lost.

Federal investigators entered the fray in 2006 seizing computers, disc drives, VCR tapes, compact discs and DVDs from Evans’ office and home. He pleaded guilty in United States District Court in 2008 to one count of possession of child pornography.

Hill also came under investigation — by city officials — when an employee complained that inappropriate e-mails were being sent throughout the city e-mail system.

Dinneen put Hill on administrative leave on March 28, 2006.

“... I believe Mr. Hill did not fully cooperate in the March 28 investigation of the circumstances regarding his participation in the inappropriate e-mail traffic, and that this lack of cooperation, is, alone, an adequate reason for termination of his employment, if you should choose to exercise your discretion in this matter,” Paul Hallinan of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur stated in an investigative report to Young.

Young hired Hallinan on July 14, 2006, after Dinneen left Dayton to take a job in Florida.

Young signed off on Hill’s firing on Oct. 5, 2006.

City records show that during Young’s tenure as a manager in Dayton, 50 percent of the 24 employees he hired where white men.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Phila. black firefighters sue union, cite racism

By Troy Graham

Inquirer Staff Writer

In a federal lawsuit filed yesterday, an organization of African American firefighters accused the Philadelphia firefighters union of being "racially harassing and abusive" to blacks.

The lawsuit said union leadership was dominated by members of a predominantly white firefighters organization dedicated to ending a 25-year-old federal consent decree that paved the way for the hiring of many black firefighters.

The members of that group, the Concerned American Fire Fighters Association (CAFFA), have pushed their agenda at the union, the lawsuit said. It noted that the union's December bargaining proposal to the city included the request that "any and all quota-based hiring practices" be eliminated.

"They're using my union dues to do it," said Kenneth Greene, president of Club Valiants, the black firefighters group. "It's a slap in the face."

The president of Concerned American Fire Fighters, Mike Bresnan, said the proposal to eliminate quota-based hiring subsequently was dropped, in part because an arbitration panel has no standing to rule on the issue.

"The proposal came from the membership," he said. "It's a democratic process."

The lawsuit said the Philadelphia Fire Fighters' Union, Local 22, has no black officers and only one black employee - a janitor. Union meetings have become so divisive that black firefighters no longer attend.

"African Americans have no voice in the union," the suit said.

The lawsuit also cited numerous postings from the union's private, Internet message board that mock black firefighters as lazy and stupid, and use "ebonics" to denigrate blacks.

Among other remedies, the suit askes a federal judge to appoint a civil-rights monitor to oversee the local until it is no longer "a racially hostile union."

The suit seeks class-action status for the more than 500 black Philadelphia firefighters.

Bill Gault, president of Local 22, said the allegation that the union was racist was "completely not true." He acknowledged there was only one black janitor working for the union, but said "the ladies who work for me in the office are firefighters' wives."

"Two of them have been there longer than I've been on the job," he said.

Gault had not seen a copy of the lawsuit yesterday and could not comment at length. He said he simply wanted "everybody on the same page in the contract negotiations with the city."

At the heart of the suit is the philosophical battle over the 1984 federal consent decree, which mandated the hiring of more black firefighters and replaced an entrance exam deemed to discriminate against black applicants.

The consent decree, which resulted from a 1974 lawsuit, was extended indefinitely by a federal court in 1999.

Some white firefighters have begun to push back against the hiring and promotion processes.

This year, the city paid a $275,000 settlement to five white lieutenants who said they were denied promotions by exams skewed to favor minority candidates.

This summer, three white candidates for the fire academy sued, arguing that they had been denied entrance in favor of less-qualified minority candidates.

Bresnan's organization has been allowed to intervene in federal court on behalf of the three in an attempt to overturn the consent decree.

"We view it as antiquated," Bresnan said. "Most of the guys getting skipped over weren't even born when the consent decree was enacted."

He also said the decree harms black firefighters, who get "stigmatized" as affirmative action hires regardless of their qualifications.

Greene, a lieutenant with Engine 73 and a 17-year veteran of the Fire Department, said the consent decree was still needed.

While blacks make up 45 percent of the city's population, they account for just 27 percent of the Fire Department, according to the lawsuit.

They also are underrepresented among ranking officers, the suit said, although the commissioner, Lloyd M. Ayers, is black.

Ayers, a former president of Club Valiants, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"No way is there parity or equality in this department," Greene said. "Based on the diversity of the city of Philadelphia, this department is not diverse at all."

Greene also said the Internet postings on the union message board prove that racism, which he likened to a fire, still exists in the department.

"To go to the union Web site and see them calling people of color 'animals' . . . it creates a problem for me as a leader," he said. "All you need is one segment of people to start it up, and it's rolling again."

Bresnan said there was "absolutely a racial division in the department, much of it over the consent decree."

Bresnan said that he, Ayers, and former union president Brian McBride met with Mayor Nutter in 2008 to discuss the consent decree. They talked about setting up meetings between CAFFA, the Valiants, and a Hispanic firefighters organization.

Those meetings were never arranged, Bresnan said.

"When you talk, stuff can be avoided, but it's just lawsuit after lawsuit," he said. "I'm still willing to meet. I think a lot of this stuff can be worked out."

The dispute over the Web-site comments echoes a lawsuit filed this summer by an organization of black police officers against Domelights.com, a now-defunct Internet forum for discussing crime and police news.

That Web site, founded by a Philadelphia police sergeant, hosted "blatantly racist" content, according to the lawsuit, which is pending.

The same lawyers, Brian and David Mildenberg, filed the Domelights and Club Valiants suits.

CAFFA was founded in Chicago in 1993 and also has a chapter in Cleveland. Until at least 2001, the lawsuit said, the Chicago chapter was known as the Caucasian American Fire Fighters Association.

The lawsuit said that at least three top union officers are members of CAFFA, though Gault is not. CAFFA and the city are named as defendants.

Bresnan said CAFFA doesn't disclose its membership. He did acknowledge that union vice president Kelvin Fong is a member, and noted that Fong is of Chinese descent.

Gault said CAFFA was just one of about "20 or 30" groups that firefighters belong to.

"Local 22 has nothing to do with CAFFA," he said. "You got the Irish kids, the Italian kids, the Polish kids. There's so many organizations."

He said he was disappointed that Greene did not give him a heads-up on the lawsuit.

"What their motivation is, I don't know," he said. "I thought we were all firefighters."

Greene, talking about when he saw the first union bargaining proposal, expressed a similar sentiment.

"I had to pray about it real hard. I was ready to blow my top. I couldn't believe someone could be so stupid," he said. "These are guys I crawled hallways with, I fought fires with."

The Philadelphia NAACP joined Club Valiants as a plaintiff in the suit, which also asks for unspecified payment in damages.

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com.