Dan Wiley, one of ten plaintiffs that sued the City of Jersey City over a Recreation Dept. reorganization earlier this year, writes about “Our Unspoken Truth” in a letter to the editor.
creation 10 vs Jersey City: Our Unspoken Truth
By Dan Wiley
Recently, the legal plight of Jersey City Recreation employees became the focus of attention in Kansas City, MO.
The reason for this attention was the city’s public radio station, KCUR, and its two newspapers, The Kansas City Star and The Call. Their combined coverage highlighted the hiring of Jersey City’s former Business Administrator, Brian Platt, as the new City Manager for Kansas City.
Key issues surrounding Mr. Platt were serious claims about his inexperience and the fact that he is still a defendant in a discrimination lawsuit filed by Jersey City employees following the city’s restructuring of Recreation into the newly formed Department of Youth Development and Recreation.
According to newspaper accounts, Mr. Platt was the only white candidate seeking the City Manager position; the pool of candidates included individuals with far more experience that would be better suited for a city whose population and government operations are almost twice the size of Jersey City. The other candidates were all African Americans with professional credentials, skills, and backgrounds that demonstrated a greater familiarity with the City Manager job requirements.
Kansas City Councilwoman Mellissa Robinson and several other Council members correctly expressed grave concerns around the selection of Mr. Platt and his status as a defendant in the ongoing discrimination lawsuit filed by Recreation Department employees. The court-filed claims are based on the fact we were being retaliated against for publicly discussing departmental problems during several City Council meetings.
As a result, each employee received unfair and demeaning treatment and was made to suffer by being transferred or demoted under the reorganization plan. This plan’s purpose was meant to be retaliatory as well as to support age and race discrimination outcomes while shamelessly ignoring the Mayor’s Executive Order that prohibits such activities and behavior.
Removing duties from a senior managerial employee and then transferring him into a secretarial pool is retaliation. Forcing a popular coach to abandon his squad of players to clean shower stalls for the homeless after a transfer is retaliation. Trying to transfer permanent full-time employees into part-time positions or unfamiliar roles is retaliation.
These actions are summarily designed to discourage individuals from wanting to build a career path. Taking such steps is almost tantamount to job termination and a mischievously calculated pushing of an individual toward resignation or retirement.
Our city’s chief executive and other key members of the administration (including Mr. Platt) plotted to cleverly cover-up their collective assault on the rights of employees who were dedicated, experienced, credentialed, and college-trained individuals.
While Jersey City has the right to restructure the department, it does not have the right to violate state and federal laws that prohibit race, age, and gender discrimination or use Civil Service rules and regulations to sustain acts of retaliation or even void principles of fairness, decency, and affirmative action core values.
Presently, the lawsuit is working its way through the legal process which the court temporarily dismissed “without” prejudice. Two judges have issued these findings that mean all plaintiffs still can exercise their right to sue and continue pressing this action forward. The first judge determined that the case was worthy to fast track as a New Jersey Law Against Discrimination matter on its merits. The second court decision opined that the Civil Service Commission should have some input into the proceedings.
Plaintiffs have concerns about why each did not receive a timely and proper hearing of their complaints under the CSC jurisdictional regulatory and appeals umbrella for approximately a full year after filing. The CSC was not established to handle complaints of discrimination which, perhaps, is the reason for the prolonged waiting period. Claims of discrimination are handled specifically by the courts where the rule of law will control the final outcome of these matters.
The involvement of the Jersey City Municipal Council was also sought because as a legislative body the Council has the authority to “conduct a legislative inquiry or investigation, express its disapproval of the removal to the mayor of officers and employees as well as investigate the conduct of any department, office or agency of the municipal government”.
A majority of members of this City Council chose to ignore the pleas of city employees before the reorganization and during its aftermath. Additionally, no other group of city employees whose department underwent a reorganization (i.e., Finance, Human Resources, Police, and including the recent transfer of HED‘s Quality of Life Task Force to the JC Prosecutor’s Office) was forced to reapply for their jobs as targeted employees within the old Recreation Department were made to do.
For example, the departments of Recreation and Finance were both reorganized on the same night at the same City Council meeting. Finance Department staff members were spared the humiliation meted out to Recreation Department workers.
Finally, a few of the employees who were transferred had previously reported their personal difficulties in the department to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC’s investigation revealed to the administration that a “hostile work environment” existed in the Department of Recreation with retaliation, age and gender discrimination being important factors highlighted in their determination. Letters granting the” Right to Sue” were later issued to the employees by the agency.
Public understanding of these issues has largely been shaped by spokespersons for the City of Jersey City. This is written to offer the plaintiffs’ perspective and to declare that cases filed by recreation employees are still very much alive and have not been dismissed as Mr. Platt stated during an interview with the Kansas City Star newspaper or as falsely claimed by notable members of the Jersey City Municipal Council to support his hiring.
Dan Wiley is a former Ward F City Councilman that served from 1989 to 1993.