The head of New York’s Metro Transit Authority (MTA) is condemning what he calls an unacceptable “cover-up” in the case of a high-ranking Metro-North supervisor who was promoted in 2014 despite employee complaints about photos of him in blackface.
Joe Lohta said he was “shocked” when he of learned the situation and slammed the Metro-North rail line for its lack of action in disciplining supervisor Richard Ranallo.
“Those who decide to wear blackface are maintaining I believe a legacy of marginalizing and dehumanizing African Americans,” Lhota said in a statement earlier this week. “The employee in question was, and still is, represented by a union.”
“We will work with our labor partners to ensure that all understand what our expectations are and that actions like this, they understand, are unacceptable and that employees that participate in actions like this – and those employees who cover up actions like this – have no place at the MTA,” he continued.
An exclusive report by NBC 4 New York’s I-Team revealed that Ranallo landed a promotion to his current position in 2014 even after several employees reported the blackface photos company supervisors. The photos, shot at a private Halloween party in 2013 and posted to Facebook, showed Ranallo sporting a jockey uniform “reminiscent of the Black jockey that people used to put on their lawns” and carrying what looked like a railroad style lantern.
His face was covered in dark makeup.
“It’s kind of like wearing a KKK outfit, just kind of screams at you,” retired Metro-North employee Randy Morgan told the I-Team. ” … It’s not funny. Racism isn’t something that people wear proudly. It’s kind of insidious.”
After seeing the photos, Morgan said he took his complaints to an assistant of Ranallo’s boss, who said they were aware of the pictures. Morgan, who worked at Grand Central Station at the time, also complained to the railroad’s “Equal Employment and Diversity” office. An ex-employee of that office confirmed Morgan’s complaint with the I-Team, noting that four other employees had complained as well.
” …It was a hurtful feeling to see someone, especially a supervisor, displaying that kind of behavior,” said electrical foreman John Barrow, who was among the workers who reported the blackface pictures. He said he took his complaints to his direct supervisor, who said he would look into it.
Eight months later, employees were shocked to learn that Ranallo had been promoted to general manager, managing additional workers and keeping his $200,000 per year salary. The only punishment he received for the photos was being ordered to remove them from social media and participating in five days of sensitivity training, according to Metro-North.
Morgan said news of the promotion sent the message that Ranallo was “untouchable.”
“What it says to me is, you bring it up, and there’s that target on your back,” said told the news station.
Barrow echoed a similar feeling, recalling a comment Ranallo directed at him after he reported the photos.
“He said, ‘Don’t feel that you guys, now or in the future, are entitled to an interview,'” Barrow said. He told the I-Team he plans to sue for retaliation.
Metro-North’s brand new president Cathy Rinaldi said she just learned of the photos last week, but made it a point to issue a statement denouncing Ranallo’s offensive conduct.
” … I want to be very clear that I find this type of conduct shocking and completely unacceptable,” she wrote in a letter to employees, dated June 19. “It is a betrayal of our core values of respect, honesty, and pride.”
“I want to be very clear that employees have a right to report their concerns and that retaliation against anyone making such a report will not be tolerated,” she continued.
When asked why Ranallo wasn’t fired over the photos, Rinaldi replied, “This is five years ago. I really can’t look back and second-guess the decisions that were made at this time.”