Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Civil rights complaint dismissed

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
November 12, 2007

VERNON - A civil rights complaint against the town made by a Department of Public Works laborer charging discrimination, harassment, and bias based on color or race was dismissed by the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

Maurice Hill Sr., the only African-American or minority among 15 laborers in Public Works, filed the complaint with the state commission in June, claiming that for the last four years he'd been harassed by supervisors and fellow co-workers and discriminated against because he is black.

But according to the decision, handed down by Commission Regional Manager James M. Flynn, any further investigation would likely produce no reasonable cause for fault by the town.

Flynn writes in his report that the issue centers on whether Hill was harassed and subjected to different terms and conditions of employment in retaliation for filing a similar complaint in November 2004 and because of his race.

A town employee since January 2003, Hill complained in the earlier filing that he was subject to unequal treatment.

In the more recent complaint Hill claimed that the town retaliated against him by making the contents of the first complaint known to co-workers, causing anger and low morale. He also charged that he was passed over for training, promotions, and overtime opportunities and was assigned to work "rubbish rotation" longer than white employees.

Hill further charged that fellow workers asked inappropriate questions concerning his schedule and that he was required to submit medical certification for missed work.

According to Flynn's report, the policy and practice regarding refuse rotation was instituted prior to Hill's hiring and all persons in similar positions are subject to the policy.

Between Dec. 14, 2006, and June 11, 2007, Hill worked the refuse rotation 27 times, while two white co-workers, referred in the report as Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Ignatowicz, each filled the rotation 37 and 23 times respectively, Flynn wrote. There is no evidence that Hill was assigned refuse rotation more times because of his race or because he previously filed a CHRO complaint, Flynn wrote.

And although Hill "reported that he was offended by questions from two of his co-workers, the questions were made because he was assigned to work as partner with them and he was unable or unwilling to complete the assignment, and they asked him why he always seemed to do that," Flynn wrote. "This was a work project related question and not considered harassment, nor was it an issue he could grieve."

Hill did not dispute he told co-workers he had to leave work because he was sick and had a long-term chronic illness that flared up with little warning, Flynn states in his report.

Town staff "sought to clarify if he had any medical issues and requested a medical certification," Flynn wrote.

"There is no evidence in the file of an adverse employment action that was motivated by complainant's race and color," nor was there any "retaliation for previously filing" a complaint, Flynn wrote.

Furthermore, Hill had failed to obtain training offered to upgrade his driver's license and there is no evidence in the file that he was denied training or passed over for an available promotional opportunity he was qualified for, Flynn states.

A union member, Hill can appeal the state's decision with the state superior court.

This is the second civil rights complaint against the town dismissed by the commission in recent weeks.

Four weeks ago the commission dismissed a sexual discrimination complaint by former employee Mary P. Pippin, saying the town followed proper hiring practices when they decided to hire another for the position of data processing director.

©Journal Inquirer 2007