Testimony by ReNika Moore
NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
(Co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Wright v. Stern)
“More Than One Year After Wright v. Stern:
Ensuring No Future Discrimination in the
Before the Committee on Civil Rights and the
Committee on Parks and Recreation
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
City Hall, New York, NY
Good Afternoon Chairman Seabrook and Chairwoman Foster, and members of the Committee on Civil Rights and the Committee on Parks and Recreation. Thank you for the invitation to testify here today. My name is ReNika Moore and I am Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
The Legal Defense Fund is the nation’s oldest civil rights legal organization. We were founded by Thurgood Marshall here in New York City, and we have challenged racial discrimination against African Americans and other people of color for over sixty years. Along with our co-counsel, the Legal Defense Fund represents the plaintiffs in the Wright v. Stern lawsuit.
The Wright v. Stern lawsuit settled a year-and-a-half ago, and I am here to speak about the Parks Department’s compliance with the settlement. While we acknowledge that the Parks Department has—with some exceptions—followed the letter of the settlement, we believe the Department has gone no farther than what is required. We question their true commitment to remedying the wrongs of the past and ensuring a workplace free from discrimination and because of this we have serious concerns about continued obstacles faced by workers of color within the Department.
My remarks today will address: (1) our areas of concern regarding the Department’s compliance with the settlement; (2) the challenges to EEO enforcement in other City agencies; and (3) what the City can do to address these challenges.
Let me begin with some background on Wright v. Stern. This lawsuit was filed by African American and Hispanic Parks workers in 2001 to challenge widespread discrimination in pay, promotion, racially segregated job assignments, and routine retaliation against classmembers who complained of discrimination. After more than six years of divisive litigation and a year of intense mediation, the plaintiffs and the City reached a settlement in May 2008 that provided for comprehensive changes to the Parks Department’s employment practices that were intended to ensure fair and equal job opportunities for all Parks workers regardless of race or ethnicity. The settlement also provided for more than $12 million in backpay and compensatory damages to workers who had been discriminated against. At this time the settlement proceeds in large part have been distributed to all eligible classmembers who submitted releases within the established submission period. In total, approximately 2,275 classmembers received some monetary relief from the settlement.
The Parks Department has taken positive steps toward reducing discrimination but more is needed.
The Parks Department has met its reporting requirements under the settlement and taken a number of constructive steps toward improving equal opportunity, including revamping its process for filling job vacancies and reinstating a managerial training program that former Commissioner Stern had abolished. In July of this year, after we concluded that the Settlement’s required adverse impact analysis conducted by Parks showed an impermissible selection rate for minorities, the City agreed to conduct a content validity study for the Parks Recreation Manager (“PRM”) position. We were encouraged by the Parks Department’s undertaking because of our concerns about ongoing discrimination in the interview and promotion process for managerial-level positions. However three months later, the City has yet to hire an expert to conduct the study, raising concerns about delays in the completion of the study. Such delays have real-life consequences for workers of color seeking these jobs but who are unfairly and unlawfully excluded.
There are other areas for concern. For example, the settlement called for the creation of an Advisory Committee, a five-person committee with representatives of the class, Parks’ General Counsel and Parks’ EEO officer. The Committee’s purpose is to address employment discrimination and retaliation within the Department. In the Committee’s first year, which came to a close this month, the class was represented by three of the named plaintiffs from Wright v. Stern, who together have more than 50 years of service to the Parks Department and led the effort to improve minority opportunities both from within the Department and through litigation. These three