Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for any type of discriminatory behavior in the workplace. It is against everything that Barclays Center stands for."

Indeed, if the claims are valid, the lawsuit casts a shadow over the prominent promises of local hiring and the significant presence of black employees on the front lines.

The details

Five workers (four of them black) in food service at the arena have sued three white supervisors, Levy Restaurants, Levy Premium FoodService, and the Barclays Center (aka Brooklyn Events Center), charging racial discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. See complaint at bottom.

Four of the plaintiffs are black, one of them blind in one eye. Another plaintiff, not black, has cerebral palsy and "moderately severe rhinophyma, a rare skin disorder causing abnormal overgrowth of nose glands."

The suit charges that the employees have been pushed toward less skilled positions. Levy Premium operates three kitchens at the Barclays Center: the 40/40 Club by American Express and the Calvin Klein Courtside Club, premium restaurants that demand more complex culinary skills than Concessions because of their upscale rather than fast-food menu.

One plaintiff is a Senior Supervisor, another a Lead--both in the middle of the hierarchy--and three have the status of “Cook 3,” at the bottom of the hierarchy.

From the lawsuit

The lawsuit states:
Beginning September 2013, the Individual Defendants [Aaron La Greca, Alphonse Lanza and Lisa Brefere] began to subject Plaintiffs to an intolerable hostile work environment by repeatedly assailing on black employees with outrageous profanity and racially offensive language and gestures. On a regular and continuing basis, Plaintiffs have heard Defendants Lanza and La Greca referring to black employees, inter alia, as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”
Similarly, in or around December 2013, Plaintiffs [Barnett] Valerie and [Sydney] Silvera, among other employees, heard Defendants Lanza and La Greca maliciously ridiculing Wendy Woolfork, the Human Resources (“HR”) Director at Levy Premium, by saying that she is “uppity” “because she is black and in management,” and claiming, in substance, that she was only hired for “show.”
Plaintiffs Valerie and Silvera have also seen Defendants Lanza and La Greca outrageously mocking Terrance Greenidge, a black employee, by making monkey gestures. In or around December 2013, Plaintiff Valerie saw La Greca and Lanza showing CK kitchen employees picture of “Beetlejuice,” a cartoonish character from the “Wack Pack” of the Howard Stern Show, who is played by an African-American man who suffers from microcephaly and dwarfism. See Exhibit A. [Here are photos from the web.] As they circulated the picture, La Greca and Lanza maliciously laughed and ridiculed Mr. Greenidge, saying “look at the black monkey,” “look at this little black nigger!”, encouraging employees to laugh, and telling all employees who were present that Mr. Greenidge resembles Beetlejuice.
 Defendants also have licensed other employees to revile Plaintiffs [Anthony] Peterkin, [Ramses] Graham and Valerie for being black. For example, Chef Elizabeth Degori, Sous Chef of the CK kitchen, has called Plaintiff Peterkin “stupid dumb fuck” in front of the CK kitchen staff, because of her animus against dark-skinned individuals. Chef Degori has also assailed upon Plaintiff Graham with egregious profanity, an excessively aggressive tone and specious write-ups. On one occasion, Chef Elizabeth Degori, gave Plaintiff Graham a write-up for allegedly pushing an employee although there were no complaints against Graham and there was no investigation into Degori’s allegations. Similarly, Plaintiff Valerie endured significant maltreatment by Darcy Tapia, Senior Catering Manager at Levy Premium, as Ms. Tapia was consistently and repeatedly aggressive, condescending and disrespectful to Plaintiff Valerie, because he is black. Upon information and belief, Ms. Tapia attempted to have Plaintiff Valerie removed from the CK kitchen due to her racial animus.
Defendants also force Plaintiffs to endure an abusive work environment by constantly mocking employees with disabilities, and subjecting them to egregiously demeaning name-calling. On several occasions, Plaintiffs have heard Defendants La Greca and Lanza referring to Plaintiff Peterkin as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” because he is visibly blind in one eye. Plaintiff Peterkin also overheard Defendant La Greca asking “why is he [Peterkin] working here if he’s blind.” Similarly, La Greca and Lanza refer to Plaintiff Silverman as “the nose guy,” and constantly saying comments like “his mother so [sic] ugly.” Plaintiff Silvera, who supervises Plaintiff Silverman as Lead, was deeply outraged and helpless as she saw Defendant La Greca ridiculing Silverman, pretending to mimic Silverman’s nose deformity by placing a piece of bread on his nose, and attempting to mimic Silverman’s voice. Further, in one occasion, Plaintiff Silverman heard Defendant La Greca making fun of his uncontrollably shaky hand, which is a symptom of his cerebral palsy.
Charges of racial preference

The lawsuit states:
Further, at all times relevant hereto, Defendants implement discriminatory hiring and promotion practices. Upon information and belief, the only Leads at the 40/40 kitchen who are black are individuals who were hired or promoted prior to September 2013, before the Corporate Defendants hired Defendants La Greca, Lanza and Brefere. Plaintiffs Silverman, Graham, Peterkin and Silvera have been passed for promotions despite their satisfactory employment evaluations, while newly hired or promoted employees are exclusively Hispanic individuals of lighter skin, who are unqualified for their positions, as evidenced by their inefficient performance. For example, Fani Ualpa, Marco Pena and Sandra Ortiz, who are recently-hired light-skinned Hispanics, cannot fulfill their responsibilities, and create more work for others because of their inability to manage their tasks.
....Defendants also evidence pervasive racial discrimination in their enforcement of workplace policies. While Plaintiff Graham received one write-up for tardiness, Mr. Pena, a light-skinned Hispanic, has not been reprimanded or written-up for repeatedly being late.
Charges of retaliation

The lawsuit states:
Upon complaining about racial and disability discrimination in the workplace, and the hostile, unequal and unfair environment they are forced to endure, Plaintiffs Valerie, Graham Silvera and Silverman suffered callous retaliation from Defendants.
Plaintiff Valerie, who had never received a write up during his career at Levy Premium, began to receive specious write-ups after he persistently spoke to the Individual Defendants, to Ms. Woolfork and Mr. Loiselle about the unequal treatment of black and disabled employees. On March 10, 2014, Ms. Tapia harassed Plaintiff Valerie while he was following her orders, because of her racial animus. Ms. Tapia called three (3) Caucasian managers, including Director of Operations Greg Costa to the kitchen, to berate Plaintiff Valerie in front of the staff. Plaintiff Valerie was further humiliated as Ms. Tapia ordered the other managers to physically restrain Valerie, take his employee ID and escort him out of the building. Plaintiff Valerie was consequently suspended for four (4) shifts, although Ms. Tapia did not provide any reason as to why he was maltreated or why he was disciplined. On a meeting with HR following the incident, Plaintiff Valerie found out that Ms. Tapia and the managers had falsely accused him of using foul language.
In retaliation for his complaints about Defendants’ disparate treatment of black and disabled employees, Defendant Levy Premium demoted Plaintiff Valerie to the 40/40 kitchen and stripped him of all supervisory duties and responsibilities of running the CK kitchen, and of his pride in his work. Upon being transferred, Plaintiff Valerie was no longer treated as second in command. He was no longer responsible for providing guidance to employees, directing the production of all foods, or assisting other managers in creating setting employee schedules; rather, he only was in charge of preparing and making salads, although his title involved more complex responsibilities. By contrast, Mel Capellan, a light-skinned Hispanic, performed supervisory duties at the 40/40 kitchen, although he is a Lead and Plaintiff Valerie was supposed to be his manager.After demoting Plaintiff Valerie, Defendants continued to isolate and castigate him by refusing to support him in his management role of supervisor, in retaliation for complaining about the systemic discrimination at Levy Premium and the Barclays Center. For example, when Plaintiff Valerie raised concerns about Mr. Capellan’s refusal to follow his directions, Chef Tourtollet told him that Mr. Capellan is not required to follow his directions because Mr. Capellan is the “go to guy,” and that he needs to treat Mr. Capellan as a supervisor, although, as a Lead, Mr. Cappellan should be under his supervision. See supra ¶ 23. Instead of allowing Plaintiff Valerie to oversee and manage employees at the 40/40 kitchen, Defendants treated Mr. Capellan as the de facto supervisor. This dismissal of Plaintiff Valerie’s authority as a supervisor prevented him from fulfilling his responsibility to effectively manage the 40/40 kitchen. 
Defendants have also retaliated against Plaintiff Graham by giving him specious write-ups for complaining about maltreatment and the failure to promote him because he is black. 
Defendants also retaliated against Plaintiffs Silvera and Silverman by reducing their work hours for complaining about the flagrant discrimination against black and disabled employees at Levy Premium and the Barclays Center.
The lawsuit seeks at least $1.25 million on four claims, plus punitive damages, liquidated damages, lost wages, and attorneys’ fees.

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