In court papers filed in 2001, current and former employees of the New York City Parks Department alleged that African-American and Latino employees Parks workers had been denied equal employment opportunities. As a result of long-term, systemic discrimination throughout the Parks Department and rising to its highest levels, minority employees experienced widespread discrimination in pay and promotion, racially segregated job assignments, and routine retaliation against class members who complained of inequality. The Plaintiffs in the case, Wright v. Stern, sought retroactive promotions for class members who were denied the opportunity to progress in the Department due to discrimination. They also pursued recovery of lost wages resulting from the City’s failure to promote and provide equal pay for similar work, as well as additional compensation for the use of discriminatory practices between 1997 and 2004.
In September 2006, a District Court ruled in Wright v. Stern that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence upon which a jury could find that the New York City Parks Department “engaged in widespread discrimination against African-American and Hispanic employees.” The Court also found that a jury could conclude that “Parks engaged in widespread retaliation against those who opposed what they believed to be discriminatory practices,” opening the door for plaintiffs to go to trial.
In December of 2006, however, the Parks Department agreed to settle the suit, resulting in a payment of more than $21 million in damages and fees. The settlement, in which the plaintiffs were represented by LDF along with co-counsel from the firms of Beldock Levine & Hoffman and attorney Lewis M. Steel, provided back pay and compensatory damages to current and former employees, attempting to remedy past discrimination in the promotion and pay of minority employees. Additionally, the City agreed to major changes in its personnel practices in the settlement, such as examining promotion processes and salary differences between employees, and data reporting.
The suit and settlement were officially approved by Judge Denny Chin of Manhattan’s U.S. District Court in May, 2008. Then-Director of LDF’s Economic Justice Practice Group, Robert Stroup, called the victory, “a win for the African-American and Latino employees, as well as for the City of New York.”