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Affiliate Spurs Federal Lawsuit Over Racial Harassment

 

Working closely for three years with an AFT member, the Union of Clerical, Administrative & Technical Staff (UCATS) has prompted a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against New York University, which is charged with creating a hostile work environment of verbal harassment directed at an African employee.

According to the EEOC's suit, the mailroom supervisor at an NYU library regularly subjected his assistant, a native of Ghana and a member of the AFT, to slurs such as "monkey" and "gorilla," and made comments such as "Go back to your cage," "Go back to the jungle" and "Do you want a banana?" The supervisor also frequently mocked the assistant's English, deriding it as "gibberish," and expressed hostility toward immigrants generally and Africans specifically.

Although the assistant, with the help of UCATS staff, complained repeatedly to NYU management and human resources personnel, NYU took months to investigate and then took virtually no action to curb the supervisor's conduct. Even after the assistant and UCATS alerted NYU that the supervisor had retaliated against him for complaining, the university did not stop the harassment. Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and protects employees from retaliation if they complain about such offenses.

"We were winning the grievances, but we weren't getting any results," says UCATS organizer Greg Succop, adding that the AFT member, who prefers not to be named, has conducted himself in a professional manner throughout this ordeal. UCATS approached a department head, but the administration's response was "faint-hearted at best," Succop said. "They were trying to mollify us." Finally, after exhausting all other possibilities, the employee and his union went to the EEOC.

As the government agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-bias laws in the workplace, the EEOC first tried to reach a settlement out of court and then filed suit.

"Forty-five years after national origin and race discrimination were outlawed by federal law, this case shows that too many employees still face ugly epithets and other hostile treatment because of who they are and where they are from," says Gillian Thomas, an EEOC trial attorney. "It is especially shocking that NYU, a prestigious university that touts its commitment to a diverse student body drawn from around the world, would tolerate such egregious conduct. With this suit, the EEOC is sending the message that no employer is above the law." [EEOC press release, Annette Licitra]

September 28, 2010