4 Workers Sue Conn. Agency, Claim Discrimination

Published August 3, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn (AP) — Four African-American employees of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families are suing the state agency, alleging it discriminates against minority workers.

According to the federal lawsuit obtained Monday by the Associated Press, the workers say African-American employees have been the target of racially motivated disciplinary actions and are promoted at a lesser rate. The lawsuit also said the workers' concerns have been ignored by supervisors and they have faced other forms of harassment.

The employees who filed the lawsuit work for the agency's Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a detention center for 12- to 17-year-old boys in Middletown.

The lawsuit said the lack of action by DCF management has "created an on-going hostile work environment based on race at CJTS." It said employees of color have been forced to endure "permanent loss of career opportunities, severe and extreme emotional distress, including loss of self-esteem, humiliation and embarrassment."

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Cornell Lewis, one of the plaintiffs, said Monday that he hopes the lawsuit will spark change in the child welfare agency, who was served Friday.

"As an African-American man living in America, daily faced with racist forms of discrimination, the action filed against DCF and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School is my attempt to be free of America's endemic racism," he said.

The workers are seeking financial and other compensation for damages. Calls to the plaintiffs' attorney Monday were not immediately returned.

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said in a statement Monday that the agency could not comment on the lawsuit. He said more than 45 percent of DCF's staff are minorities, with more than 50 percent at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School.

"While we are proud of this diversity, we take very seriously any allegations of discrimination," the statement said. "And we are constantly striving to improve the agency's cultural competence."

The lawsuit said DCF has exhibited a pattern of discrimination since at least 1991. It claims that African-American employees are more often and more harshly disciplined than their counterparts.

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The lawsuit also said black DCF workers are more often passed over for promotions so "the numbers of African-American employees in middle management and especially in upper management positions is vastly disproportional to the rate of employment of African-Americans at CJTS."

Workers in upper management are subject to higher levels of scrutiny and are not provided with enough training for supervisory positions, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges non-minority workers are given preferential treatment, including desired shift assignments and transfers, and asserts that despite repeated complaints to management, no attempts were made to stop harassment, train senior employees to prevent such behavior or establish new policies or guidelines.

"Defendants' actions were wilful, reckless or wanton and undertaken without regard to the rights of (the) Plaintiffs," the lawsuit said.

Written by <P>EVERTON BAILEY Jr.,Associated Press Writer</P>

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