Black New Haven public works employee alleges racist work environment in lawsuit

By Esteban L. Hernandez, August 16, 2017 New Haven Register
An African-American Public Works employee is suing the department and his supervisor for allegedly creating a hostile work environment rampant with racist incidents and discriminatory language that targeted the employee for several years.

Dairwood Vereen filed the complaint against the city Department of Public Works and its director, Jeff Pescosolido, for a series of alleged racist incidents that included employees posting a photo of a gorilla on an office bulletin board suggesting it was Vereen. The complaint was served to the city last week and has a return date of Sept. 12.

The lawsuit names other defendants including city Human Resource Manager Stephen Librandi, Superintendent of Streets Lynwood Dorsey and department supervisor Edward D’Angelo. Pescosolido did not return calls for comment. Librandi, D’Angelo and Dorsey declined to comment. Vereen is being represented by Stamford-based lawyer Lewis H. Chimes, who also declined to comment Monday. City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the city declined to comment on the pending litigation due to city policy.

The complaint alleges derogatory use of “race-based references” was widespread in the department. The complaint alleges the city violated the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act when it failed to properly supervise or train Librandi, D’Angelo and Dorsey. It alleges the city didn’t respond to or take action on Vereen’s complaints. The treatment also amounts to a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, because the alleged discrimination was based on race, according to the complaint.

One incident highlighted in the complaint involves someone allegedly placing a gorilla photo on a bulletin board in a break room at the Department of Public Works. This allegedly was done while Vereen was on medical leave between July 2014 and February 2015. A photograph of the bulletin board appears as an exhibit in the complaint. The lawsuit said the board had photos of other department workers performing job duties. After returning from medical leave, Vereen was allegedly told by a co-worker that people had been saying the gorilla photo was him, adding that Vereen even heard co-workers laugh and say, “Look at Dairwood on the board,” while referencing the photograph.

Vereen allegedly asked both Dorsey and Pescosolido to remove the photo, but they both “refused and instead laughed.” The photo remained on the bulletin board for more than a year, according to the complaint.

Starting in 2015, the complaint alleges Vereen’s coworkers would make monkey sounds in reference to him over the department’s radio system. During another alleged incident between late 2015 and early 2016, someone placed a stuffed black doll that looked like a monkey with “Dairwood” printed on its sleeves. The doll was allegedly placed near an area where public works employees signed in. Vereen complained to Dorsey and Pescosolido about the doll but nothing was done, according to the complaint.

Vereen was allegedly targeted by other black coworkers who would make of fun of Vereen’s dark skin. This included an alleged incident in which a coworker posted a photograph on Facebook of a dark-skinned man and Dorsey allegedly insinuated it was Vereen.

Vereen left work “upset, humiliated,” during one alleged incident in September 2015. Vereen alleges D’Angelo repeatedly called him “little black boy” in the presence of Pescosolido, whom Vereen said did nothing about Vereen’s complaint over the comments. The complaint alleges that during other occasions in late 2015 to mid- 2016, D’Angelo would refer to Vereen as “chocolate boy.” According to the lawsuit, Vereen said mistreatment started months after being hired by the Department of Public Works in 2004 as a street laborer. Vereen was fired but then rehired following an alleged incident in which D’Angelo ordered Vereen to pick up a cigarette butt.

Vereen had filed a Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity complaint alleging discrimination in February 2016. The complaint was released by CHRO in May after Vereen requested release to file a claim in court.

Vereen is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 and injunctive relief to cease the alleged discriminatory practices.

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.

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