The Emeryville City Council is scheduled to discuss explosive charges of racial discrimination and retaliation against city employees in its May 1 council meeting, but the councilmember who put the item on the agenda does not hold out much hope that the discussion will lead to changes in Emeryville city government.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think there’s much sentiment to make those changes,” Councilmember Ken Bukowski said by telephone this week. “I don’t think [the council] is going to listen. But it’s important to make the effort. These are serious allegations and they need to be looked into.”
The Emeryville City Council will meet on Tuesday, May 1, 7:15 p.m., in the Council Chambers at Emeryville City Hall, 1333 Park Ave.
At the last Emeryville City Council meeting, an Emeryville-based group called Concerned Citizens for Change presented councilmembers a letter “requesting that the issue of discrimination be placed on the City Council agenda…and that the city no longer see this as a ‘personnel’ matter that cannot be discussed publicly.… From 2004-2007 the city has settled more than four discrimination and retaliation complaints filed against city hall personnel only, which clearly suggests there is a problem. The City Council has discussed or been made aware of all of these complaints and others in ‘Closed Session.’ Yet to date, nothing has been done to correct the problem.”
Emeryville City Manager Patrick O’Keefe said he could not discuss the group’s charges until his office had developed a formal staff report for the May 1 City Council meeting.
“A lot of the charges involve personnel matters that we simply cannot go into in public,” O’Keefe said by telephone. He said that once his office had determined what portion of the charges could be discussed, he would speak to the press about the issue.
Included with the Concerned Citizens for Change letter was a list of what the group called “a few examples of what type of discrimination is being practiced,” listing what the group said were instances involving differences between how white and African-American employees are treated in areas such as work assignments, extension of probation, assessments, and promotions.
In one of the allegations, the group charged that “three African American female employees (with children) had their flex schedules abruptly eliminated around the same time, while several Caucasian employees were offered a flex schedule. These employees had their schedule for quite some time. Their attendance was then aggressively monitored for excessive or abusive leaves of absence.” In another allegation, the group said that “several African-American female employees have had their probations extended after they believed their work performance was satisfactory. To our knowledge, these employees never had any problems on any other job until coming to Emeryville. It’s suggested that African Americans are sometimes hired because of allegations of discrimination, but are terminated when the ‘dust’ settles.”
One of the Concerned Citizens for Change making the charges was former Emeryville City Planning Technician Leslie Pollard, who received a $3.6 million settlement from the city last month in her wrongful termination lawsuit. Pollard, who had worked for the city of Emeryville for 27 years, was suspended in 2004 and fired in 2005 after she made complaints about racial comments and harassment by a co-worker, and then was later deemed unfit to perform her job by a psychiatrist contracted with the city.
Pollard told councilmembers that the group wanted the racial discrimination issue on the council agenda “not just for city employees, but for city taxpayers as well. There is money being given out by the city in litigation settlement that could be avoided.”
The May meeting will be the third time that Concerned Citizens for Change has come before Emeryville City Council with these charges in recent weeks. At the March 20 meeting, several citizens, organizations, and employees spoke under the council’s public comment session to discuss the Pollard settlement and allegations of racial discrimination in Emeryville city employment.
Councilmembers, by law, could not respond during the meeting because the item had not been agendized, but following the meeting, the East Bay Daily News quoted Emeryville Mayor Nora Davis as saying, “What you did not hear last night is those many, many minority people employed by the city of Emeryville who certainly have never given any suggestion about discrimination in the city. We have tried very, very hard to be a diverse city and to be a fair city. If we have fallen down in any instance, we will correct it. I truly believe that.”
Davis could not be reached for comment in connection with this article.
In its letter to the council in response to Davis’ newspaper comment, Concerned Citizens for Change wrote “Was Mayor Davis suggesting that because not all employees have experienced racial discrimination/disparate treatment that it doesn’t exist? If this is Mayor Davis’ (and others’) state of mind and/or belief, then the lack of interest and action is not surprising. The City of Emeryville may be in a state of denial, and refusing to conduct a diversity assessment internally allows this mind set and practice to continue.”
At the April meeting, Pollard told Davis that while the mayor had denied that there was discrimination in Emeryville city employment, “you are good at getting back to your constituents and talking with them. Once you hear the information we have to present, we won’t have to convince you that there’s discrimination in the City of Emeryville.”
Councilmember Bukowski said one of his purposes for putting the issue on the Council agenda was to ask for a change in the city’s employee grievance policy.
“Currently, if an employee grievance can’t be settled at the city manager level, the issue goes directly to arbitration rather than to the council,” Bukowski said. “I would like to change city policy so that the council gets a chance to evaluate employee grievances before they go to arbitration.” Bukowski suggested that the council might be able to settle many of the employee grievance matters before they turn into litigation.