An amended complaint filed by six African-American workers in the city's Department of Public Works seeks additional damages for what the plaintiffs allege is a continuing pattern of workplace discrimination and harassment.
Conditions in the DPW have worsened since the six filed their original lawsuit last year, they told the Reporter, a situation they believe is in direct retaliation for the suit.
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The amended complaint names several current DPW supervisors -- including John Caso, Willie Santiago and Joseph Polka -- in connection with race-based disciplinary policies and for promoting a culture in which the use of racial epithets such as "nigger" is tolerated.
Santiago may best be remembered by Reporter readers for taking a plea bargain last year in an August 2001 case involving the theft of more than $20,000 in city property.
Among the new allegations:
In the complaint, Richard Wyssling, attorney for the six men, states that the continuing pattern of disparate treatment for African-American workers, combined with a hostile work environment, constitute serious violations of New York's Human Rights Law.
Meanwhile, the city continues to duck and dodge the charges, which will likely result in a multi-million dollar judgment. The Anello administration still hasn't decided who will represent the city in the case -- its own law department or the high-priced Rochester firm of Underberg and Kessler. Depositions have yet to be taken, and no pre-trial hearings have been scheduled.
"It's like they think if they just put it off and ignore it, it'll just go away," Cox told the Reporter. "It's not going to go away."
According to Cox and Paulk, Mayor Vince Anello has been anything but sympathetic to their plight. Despite his belated and much-ballyhooed announcement -- shortly after the amended complaint was filed -- that the city would begin a "sensitivity training" program, the men said Anello showed his true colors earlier this year, when they attempted to organize a city job fair for minority applicants.
"He told us he was the police, he was the fire department," Cox said. "He said he was the only one who could speak for the city."
Wyssling is known as a top labor lawyer in Western New York. In separate cases here, he is also representing 14 Steelworkers suing the city for $1.4 million, and former city clerk Cynthia Baxter, who is suing for discrimination and wrongful termination.
Legal sources familiar with the case say that the continuing pattern of harassment, combined with the administration's stonewalling, do not bode well for the city.
"It's almost as if they're doing everything in their power to aggravate rather than mitigate (the charges against them)," said one prominent attorney. "I'd hate to be the one defending the city in this case."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Sept. 14 2004|