AG Porrino: Housing Authority Agrees to Pay Ex-Employee $25,000 to Resolve Workplace Discrimination Claim

In addition to paying former employee Rosella Coleman a monetary settlement, the Housing Authority has agreed to implement a number of policy reforms, including creation of an employee complaint process that provides an alternate method for reporting discrimination if a supervisor is alleged to be involved in the discriminatory conduct. The agreement also calls for the Housing Authority to ensure that all of its employees, managers, supervisors and agents are appropriately trained in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

“This is an important settlement, because it serves as a reminder that public agencies are no different than private sector employers when it comes to their legal obligation to protect workers and treat them fairly. Public agencies have the same duty – and perhaps even a higher calling – to ensure a harassment-free workplace, and those who fail to do so will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Porrino.

A former security guard for the Housing Authority, Coleman is African-American. She filed a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights alleging that her supervisor – who also is African-American – repeatedly subjected her to racial harassment by using a racial slur. Allegedly, one witness to such conduct was a tenant of the Kennedy Towers public housing development where Coleman was a security guard.

In addition to alleging use of a racial slur, Coleman also alleged that her supervisor engaged in sexually harassing conduct toward her, including phone calls in which he repeated her name suggestively, breathed heavily into the phone and, on one occasion, offered to arrange coverage for her shifts so she could travel with him to Atlantic City. Coleman also charged that her supervisor retaliated after she reported his actions to upper management by placing her on probation for 90 days for “excessive absenteeism.” A Division investigation found that another Housing Authority employee with a comparable number of absences merely received warnings and was placed on “strict monitoring” – not probation.

Along with her placement on probation, Coleman alleged that she was further retaliated against after she filed a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights in April 2013. Specifically, Coleman told Division investigators that, after she reported the presence of a known drug dealer on the Kennedy Towers premises, the drug dealer approached her and told her he was aware of her overture to management. Concerned for her safety, Coleman said, she asked for a meeting with the site manager, her security supervisor and one of the Long Beach Housing Authority board members. The meeting was scheduled but never took place, as housing authority management cited Coleman’s pending discrimination complaint as reason not to meet.

Coleman resigned a week later without another job to go to, she told Division investigators, because she feared for her own safety and that of her family.

In a Finding of Probable Cause issued by the Division in November 2016, Director Craig T. Sashihara noted that two witnesses – including a Kennedy Towers tenant – corroborated the use of racial slurs by Coleman’s supervisor, and that such conduct not only had potential to undermine Coleman’s authority as a security guard, but “sends a message to tenants that management condones this type of racial harassment.”

Under the finalized settlement agreement, the Long Branch Housing Authority denies all allegations of discrimination. As part of the settlement, the Housing Authority must review and update its anti-discrimination policies concerning housing and employment to ensure they are in compliance with applicable state and federal laws. The employment policies must subsequently be distributed to housing authority agents, workers and supervisors.                 

“This agreement addressed the Housing Authority’s conduct both as an employer and a housing provider,” said Director Craig Sashihara. ”Although Ms. Coleman filed a complaint for employment discrimination, our investigation found that tenants may have been subjected to harassment, too. So the settlement addresses the Housing Authority’s employment and housing policies and practices, and monitors its compliance on both fronts.”

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