A group of Black construction workers has filed a complaint against an upstate New York-based commercial and multifamily development, property management, and construction firm, claiming supervisors violated their civil rights during their employment.
While many of the charges include allegations of racial bias, one male plaintiff alleges he was sexually harassed while asking for a raise.
According to a lawsuit, filed on Thursday, Nov. 10 and obtained by Atlanta Black Star, Joseph Sherman, Shakeem Taylor, Tony Gentry, and Abdullah McPherson all believe supervisors at Redburn Property Services, used race to taunt and demean them on the job.
The plaintiffs also claim to have been terminated at the top of 2022 for speaking out to human resources against the alleged continuous and systemic discrimination at worksites in and around the Albany area.
Lawyers said the employers (and supervisors empowered by the owners) broke the law not only through practicing race-based discrimination but because the defendants retaliated against them.
Names in the lawsuit are supervisors Erik Smith, Chris Colwell, Justin Kramer, Michael Levit, and John Barnes, many of who had the power to hire, fire and demote.
Attorney Steven Fingerhut from the Manhattan-based Phillips & Associates law firm, who is one attorney representing the four men, said on Thursday, Nov. 17, “There appears to be a class system [at the company]. After spending some time with my first client, I started to see a pattern, and then we got a second client and a third client. There appears to be a caste system essentially.”
It states, as a result, they were “denied promised promotional opportunities” because of their race and “were paid less than their white counterparts.” They also said the supervisors would have the Black men endanger their freedom, doing “illegal acts outside their job duties that Caucasian workers were never asked to do.”
Lastly, the plaintiff says they were “regularly demeaned in front of coworkers and supervisors,” and were fired for protesting this, the lawyers believe.
With the lawsuit, the men are seeking a trial by jury for an undisclosed amount in damages for their mental and emotional injury, distress, pain, suffering, and injury to their reputation.
Hired during the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, the men say in their claim they were subjected to a work environment brimming with discrimination and harassment.
At times, white supervisors would show a lack of regard for the Black workers, oftentimes refusing to furnish them with the personal protective equipment like fall protection equipment and respirators on hazardous assignments but supplying their white counterparts with all the utilities they might have needed to keep safe.
In one instance, according to the complaint, during the 2020 coronavirus global pandemic, some white supervisors threatened to terminate Black workers who tested positive for the virus if they told people that they were ill.
Another account mentions some African-American employees being ordered to clean up after a supervisor’s sex party in one of the model apartments they worked on in Albany.
“On these occasions, the model apartment would be very messy, littered with empty beer cans, cocaine and drug paraphernalia, used condoms, and occasionally what appeared to be a sex worker still in the model apartment when they were cleaning,” the lawsuit read.
The claim, as far as the four men know, “no Caucasian worker was asked to clean up after Defendant Colwell’s personal events during the relevant period.”
The men said they were called derogatory names, such as “felony crew,” while they tried to work. However, according to the lawsuit, it was negated as harmless chiding by co-workers’ language that left the group of workers feeling “repulsed, offended, disturbed, humiliated, and disgusted” by what they experienced at the hands of their employers and supervisors.
According to Construction Dive, one of the lawyers representing the four men, Stefanie Shmil, an associate attorney at New York City-based Phillips & Associates, said, “It’s an old boys club. They feel like they can get away with behavior a little easier than they could in an office setting.
Regardless of whether it’s at a construction site or in an office, no person should be subjected to any sort of discrimination.”
As of the filing, out of the 47 people working at the small business, there are no Black people in roles of leadership.
The Daily Gazette reported Redburn Principal Jeffrey Buell responded to the accusations via a statement.
“The allegations in the complaint are incredibly difficult to read and fly in the face of our core values,” Buell said. “We have immediately launched an internal investigation but given the seriousness of the allegations, we are in the process of engaging outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation.”
“Outside counsel will have the autonomy and ability to follow the facts wherever they lead and we are fully committed to taking any remedial action that may be appropriate. Our company and its leaders remain committed to a workplace free of harassment and discrimination,” he concluded.
In addition to the compensatory damages, the men are asking for the defendants to pay out punitive damages and all lawyer fees and costs incurred during the case