By Dianne Anderson
Money aside, everyday life for black workers in Long Beach City has been a brutal struggle after years of racist harassment from their superiors, even if some of the city’s leadership praised the Ku Klux Klan. This and many other allegations of discrimination across the city’s departments are detailed in a 35-page class action lawsuit filed on June 10th.
The lawsuit relates to the city’s 2018 demographic report, indicating 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 less than $ 60,000, compared with 34% of white employees.
According to the complaint, 54% of the city’s employees earning $ 180,000 or more are white, compared with 13% black.
In the most recent class action lawsuit against the city, former and current worker plaintiffs Christopher Stuart, Eric Bailey, Deborah Hill, Sharon Hamilton and Donnell Russell Jauregui describe a litany of racism allegations in the recruitment process.
The complaint states that blacks are the only ethnic minority group whose representation has declined and that there are large wage differentials compared to whites. The allegations include that city leadership and human resources, the Equal Opportunities Bureau, and the Public Service Commission not only cracked down on discrimination and retaliation, but also tried to suppress complaints and maintain white supremacy.
“These disparities are fueled by the city’s pattern or practice of anti-black culture, which enables repeat offenders to terrorize black workers undiminished and enables city leaders to promote the Ku Klux Klan, and enables city guides to paint, dress, and hair employees black and race clustering black employees into lower paid positions or unclassified roles, ”the lawsuit states.
Other recent lawsuits referenced in the class action lawsuit describe black employees enduring years of disparaging treatment and being banned from workshops or promotions by Public Services Director Kandice Taylor Sherwood. That lawsuit against Taylor-Sherwood was settled for $ 701,000 earlier this year.
In their 4.5 years, the complaint states that Taylor-Sherwood made it clear that black employees would not be hired or promoted if they wore pigtails, did not dress like white employees, or in what was formerly known as ebonics , speak to the complaint.
“In other words, she didn’t want people who are ‘too black’ in her department,” the lawsuit said. Indeed, Ms. Taylor-Sherwood and her direct reporting assistant director Crystal Slaten (a Pacific Islander woman) criticized black employees, including Ms. Hamilton, for failing to dress “professionally” while being non-black employees Sports clothes, sneakers and flip-flops didn’t say anything in the office. “
An official response from the Long Beach City Manager’s office to the recent lawsuit stated that the city is committed to maintaining a non-discriminatory job for all employees and applicants in the city and is proud of its diverse workforce.
The city said it had been served a copy of the complaint and that the allegations contained in the complaint were being thoroughly investigated.
“The city reiterates its commitment that no person may be discriminated against on the basis of race or any other protected class,” the statement said.
Shauna Madison of the law firm Medina Orthwein LLP said she and other lawyers have no knowledge of how many racial or discrimination lawsuits the City of Long Beach is currently juggling in the case.
“However, we anticipate that there are many employees, like our class representatives, who have experienced racial discrimination while working in Long Beach City and who are desperate to hear, investigate, and correct their allegations,” Madison said via email.
Often times, cities settle these types of complaints with taxpayers’ money, but little changes in the long run.
Madison said the policy change was an integral part of this class action lawsuit and that her office would like to discuss the proposed changes with the City of Long Beach as soon as possible.
Some examples of suggested ways to bring about policy change are the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission, she said. Also hiring an outside expert to conduct a fairness analysis of salary, promotion, and job grades, as well as appointing a compliance officer to ensure real policy changes are implemented.
The law firm invites current or former Black City employees who believe they have been racially discriminated against to fill out a form on their website.
On the question of the hopeful outcome or remedy to this lawsuit, Madison added, “For the City of Long Beach to truly” recognize, listen, convene and catalyze “the discrimination experienced by numerous city officials. This class action lawsuit is an opportunity to continue the city’s Racial Justice and Reconciliation Initiative’s mission in a way that provides both monetary and programmatic relief to the city’s black workers affected. “
Further information or the registration for the lawsuit can be found at www.medinaorthwein.com/lb-city-class-action