LBC Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Employee Discrimination
By Dianne Anderson
Money aside, the daily grind has been a brutal battle for Black employees at the City of Long Beach, having suffered years of racist harassment from their supervisors, even as some of the city’s leadership praised the Ku Klux Klan. That, and many other allegations of discrimination in the city’s departments is detailed within a 35-page class action lawsuit filed June 10.
Pulling from the City’s 2018 Workforce Demographics Report, the lawsuit points out that Black employees make up 13% and white employees make up 38% of the City’s workforce, but that 65% of the City’s Black employees make under $60,000, compared to 34% of white employees.
According to the complaint, 54% of the city’s employees who earn $180,000 or more salary are white, compared to 13% Black.
In the recent class action against the city, former and current employee plaintiffs Christopher Stuart, Eric Bailey, Deborah Hill, Sharon Hamilton and Donnell Russell Jauregui describe a litany of charges of racism within the hiring process.
The complaint says that Blacks are the only minority racial group to have declined in representation, and, compared to whites, have vast salary discrepancies. Allegations include that the city’s leadership and Human Resources department, the Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Civil Service Commission not only failed to address discrimination and retaliation, but also tried to suppress complaints and preserve white supremacy.
“Fueling these disparities is the City’s pattern or practice of anti-Black culture, allowing anti-Black repeat harassers to terrorize Black employees unabated, permitting City leaders to promote the Ku Klux Klan, allowing City leaders to tone, dress, and hair police Black employees, and race clustering Black employees into lower-paying positions or unclassified roles,” the complaint states.
Other recent lawsuits referenced within the class action describe how Black employees endured years of denigrating treatment, were excluded from workshops or advancement by Kandice Taylor Sherwood, the head of the civil service department. That lawsuit against Taylor-Sherwood settled for $701,000 earlier this year.
During her 4.5 years, the complaint states that Taylor-Sherwood made clear that Black employees would not be hired or promoted if they wore braids, if they didn’t dress like white employees, or speak in what used to be known as Ebonics, according to the complaint.
“In other words, she did not want people who are “too Black” in her department,” the lawsuit said. “Indeed, Ms. Taylor-Sherwood and her direct report, Deputy Director Crystal Slaten (a Pacific Islander woman), frequently criticized Black employees, including Ms. Hamilton, for not dressing “professional,” while saying nothing to non-Black employees wearing exercise clothes, sneakers, and flip flops in the office.”
An official response from the Long Beach City Manager’s office about the recent lawsuit said the city is committed to maintaining a discrimination free workplace for all city employees and candidates for employment and takes pride in its diverse workforce.
The city said that it has been served with a copy of the lawsuit and is thoroughly reviewing the allegations contained in the complaint.
“The City reaffirms its commitment that no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of race or any other protected class,” the statement said.
Shauna Madison with the Law Office of Medina Orthwein LLP, said that she and other attorneys on the case do not know how many racial or discrimination lawsuits that the city of Long Beach is currently juggling at this time.
“We, however, anticipate that there are many employees, like our class representatives, who have experienced racial discrimination while working at the City of Long Beach who are eager to have their claims heard, investigated and rectified,” said Madison by email.
Often, cities settle these types of complaints with taxpayer dollars, however, little changes over the long run.
Madison said that policy change is an essential component of this class action and that their office is happy to discuss proposed changes with the City of Long Beach as soon as possible.
Some examples of proposed ways to effectuate policy changes include the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission, she said. Also, the retention of an outside expert to conduct an equity analysis of pay, promotion, and job classifications, as well as the appointment of a compliance officer to ensure that true policy change is implemented.
The law firm is inviting current or former Black City employees that believe they have been racially discriminated against to fill out a form on their website.
On the question of the hopeful outcome or remedy for this lawsuit, Madison added, “For the City of Long Beach to truly “acknowledge, listen, convene, and catalyze” the discrimination that numerous City employees have experienced. This class action is an opportunity to continue the mission of the City’s Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative in a way that provides both monetary and programmatic relief to the City’s impacted Black employees.”
For more information or to sign on to the lawsuit, see www.medinaorthwein.com/lb-city-class-action