NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Black and Hispanic supervisors file suit against Sanitation Department, claiming they were passed over for promotion because of race.
The suit charges that 55% of street-level Sanitation workers are black or Hispanic, but only 3% to 5% of management meets that criteria. The class-action suit alleges that actions by the department prevent minorities from moving up within the agency.
By Tina Moore
Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 7:33 PM
Andrenia Burgis and Leticia Smith are Sanitation bosses who are part of federal discrimination lawsuit against the agency. Tina Moore/New York Daily News
A group of 11 black and Hispanic supervisors filed suit against the city Sanitation Department Tuesday, saying they’ve been denied promotions because of their race and subjected to a discriminatory “plantation” culture.
“We still have a plantation mentality at the Department of Sanitation,” said supervisor Andrenia Burgis, a black veteran employee who joined fellow plaintiffs at a press conference outside the agency’s Manhattan headquarters. “They’re in the front and we stand in back.”
The class-action suit in Manhattan Federal Court charges that while 55% of street-level Sanitation workers are black or Hispanic, that proportion does not continue to management.
The suit alleges that just 3% to 5% of top bosses are minorities.
“There’s an astounding culture of racism in the sanitation department,” attorney Arthur Schwartz said after filing the suit on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. “It would have been astounding by 1960s culture.”
Burgis, who is 50, said she has worked at the agency since 1998 and been passed over for a promotion to superintendent level 2 for three years.
Promotions at that level are not decided by exam results, as lower-level positions are, and are based on the discretion of bosses.
“It’s not about merit,” Burgis said. “It’s about who you know and what color your skin is and that’s so unfair.”
The group intentionally filed suit on Lincoln’s birthday to make a point about the 14th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War, which guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of race. The suit also seeks $1 million each for the plaintiffs.
Sanitation Superintendent Leticia Smith, 44, of Brooklyn, said she was the first Hispanic female ever to be promoted to superintendent. But since that 2007 bump, she’s hit a glass ceiling.
“They just don’t want any women of color,” she said. “We have two women who were promoted instead of me — one is Italian and one is Irish.”
Supervisor Chris Burgos, 40, said he has been written up multiple times for “frivolous complaints” as he gets closer to being promoted to superintendent.
“If you have write-ups on your file, they have the right to skip you over,” Burgos said. “That’s the box that they’re putting me in.”
He said the pressure has affected his personal life and been a burden on his family.
“If you come to work every day and you get criticized for everything you do it’s hard to not succumb,” he said. “You start to think, ‘Am I really that bad?’ You lose confidence.”
Schwartz said the group intentionally filed suit on Lincoln’s birthday to make a point about the 14th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War, which guarantees equal protection under the law regardless of race.
The suit calls on the department to freeze promotions until a system is in place to guarantee fairness, a court-appointed monitor is installed and plaintiffs are paid damages of $1 million each.
A Law Department spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the city had not yet seen the suit.