Multi-million dollar settlement secured by NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) along with cooperating attorneys in historic discrimination suit.

(New York, NY) — In a groundbreaking action, New York City has agreed to pay more than $21 million to settle a federal class action lawsuit alleging race and national origin discrimination against the New York City Parks Department. The City has also agreed to major changes in certain of its personnel practices as a result of the settlement. The settlement agreement was filed today in federal court in Manhattan asking Judge Denny Chin to schedule a fairness hearing and to approve the settlement.

“Today’s settlement is a clear victory for those who were denied equality in the workplace for so long. LDF commends the Black and Latino workers of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation who stood up to this injustice and had the courage to fight for change,” said Ted Shaw, LDF Director-Counsel and President.

LDF along with co-counsel from the firms of Beldock Levine & Hoffman and attorney Lewis M. Steel negotiated the agreement over the course of fourteen months beginning in December 2006. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is agreeing to pay nearly $12 Million in back pay and compensatory damages to current and former employees who meet eligibility requirements established in the settlement agreement. The back pay and damages are to remedy past discrimination in promotion and pay, and retaliation against employees who filed charges of race, color or national origin discrimination.

Going forward, the settlement agreement creates new mechanisms for employees to obtain review of salary differences that they believe are discriminatory, and to obtain adjustments in those salaries if disparities are not justified. The City has also agreed to increase pay in certain specific job titles. Further, the City will establish rigorous training for interviewers to ensure that employees who apply for promotions are treated in a more fair and objective manner. The City has agreed to examine the process by which managers are selected in the future to safeguard against discrimination. The City has also agreed to conduct its own review of the experience of persons who file charges of discrimination against Parks, to ascertain whether they experienced any retaliation after they filed charges. Portions of the agreement will remain in effect for a period of three years, during which time the City will file reports of its compliance with the agreement and the plaintiffs will be able to monitor progress.

The lawsuit, Wright v. Stern, was originally filed in 2001, and alleged that the Parks Department engaged in widespread and systemic employment discrimination against its African-American and Latino employees between 1997 and 2004. Parks employees in the case also alleged that they were retaliated against for filing discrimination complaints against their superiors. By agreeing to settle the claims, the City avoided a trial on the allegations. Just prior to the start of mediation, Judge Chin had ruled that the plaintiffs had presented substantial evidence to merit a trial on the allegations of class-wide discrimination in pay, promotions and retaliation.

“This has been a long and difficult struggle, and we have obtained significant relief for our clients, both in terms of damages as well as in changes to Parks practices going forward. This is a win for the African-American and Latino employees as well as for the City of New York. We have closed the door on an unfortunate period of unlawful conduct in the Parks Department,” said Robert Stroup, Director of LDF’s Economic Justice Program and one of the attorneys representing the African-American and Latino employees.

“This case and this settlement should provide inspiration to all employees subjected to unfair and discriminatory treatment on their jobs. The settlement should also provide a precedent for those employers willing to confront the reality of workplace discrimination. While it was a long time coming, it is a significant step in the direction of equal employment opportunity for African-American and Latino employees of the City of New York,” said Cynthia Rollings of Beldock Levine & Hoffman, LLP, another of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

“What the plaintiffs and their attorneys achieved proves that courageous African-American and Hispanic employees, when united, can stand up to insidious racial and national origin prejudice and can break through a glass ceiling which relegated them to second class status no matter what their individual qualifications. Now that the Parks Department has opened its leadership and managerial ranks to African-American and Hispanic employees, we hope that the City will send a message to other City agencies to review their pay and promotion practices as well. The health of our City is based upon equal employment opportunities and this settlement is certainly a step in the right direction. Working with both the Beldock firm and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was a great experience and I am thankful that I had the privilege of working with them to achieve this fine result,” said Lewis M. Steel, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The Court is expected to schedule a fairness hearing for May 12, 2008 and class members will receive individual notice about the settlement in the next 30-45 days.