Court Rules in Favor of African-American Town of Southampton Groundskeeper, Allows Racial Discrimination and Harassment Case to Proceed

April 7, 2015

HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK — Frederick K. Brewington of The Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington has announced that the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York in Central Islip, recently denied a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, David Coles, in a racial discrimination and harassment case against the Town of Southampton. Mr. Coles, who is represented by Mr. Brewington, claims that he was unlawfully subjected to a hostile work environment by Andrew Kuroski, his immediate supervisor, and Jonathan Erwin, the Town’s Parks Maintenance Supervisor, and the pattern of discrimination and behavior began when Mr. Erwin took on his new position.

Mr. Coles, an African-American male, has been employed by the Town as a Groundskeeper II since 2003 and has worked for the Town since 2001. As a result of the time spent working for the Town and earning seniority, Mr. Coles became a Senior Crew Leader and had been assigned the use of desirable, newer and higher-end lawnmowers. After having taken and returned from medical leave, Mr. Coles found that the newer equipment had been reassigned to another groundskeeper without any explanation.

Mr. Coles claims that the lawnmower incident started a pattern of harassment which took place over the next several years. In the summer of 2007, Mr. Coles was falsely accused by a temporary employee of physical assault, resulting in the dismissal of the temporary employee. Mr. Erwin did not approach Mr. Coles to discuss the incident, but instead required that he meet with Allyn Jackson, the then-Parks Supervisor. When a white employee was accused of assault, Mr. Erwin did not require the same formal procedures to which he subjected Mr. Coles.

When discussing the incident with Mr. Erwin and Mr. Jackson, Mr. Coles told Mr. Erwin that other employees could corroborate his version of the story. At this point, Mr. Erwin approached Mr. Coles in an aggressive and menacing manner and had to be restrained by Mr. Jackson.

In the spring of 2010, the town received a new lawnmower. All the other employees except Mr. Coles were allowed to test drive it. Mr. Kuroski said, “Maybe we should let David Coles test drive it,” which resulted in laughter by the other employees, subjecting Mr. Coles to additional humiliation.

There were also several other instances of hostility and racial discrimination, including the use of aggression and racial slurs by other town employees toward Mr. Coles. These incidents, which were brought to the attention of Mr. Kuroski and Mr. Erwin, often did not get reported, resulting in lack of discipline to the offending parties. When Mr. Coles asked why the incidents were not reported up the chain of command, Mr. Kuroski became violent and approached Mr. Coles, having to be held back by the union vice president.

During the time of the alleged discrimination, Mr. Coles had been promised a promotion to Groundskeeper III. In 2006, several groundskeepers in the same tier as Mr. Coles were promoted and Mr. Coles was told he would be next. When he returned from leave in 2009, he still hadn’t been promoted and discussed the planned promotion with Mr. Erwin, only to be told there were no open positions. When a position for Groundskeeper III did open up in 2010, the town did not fill the position, despite it being budgeted. Mr. Coles continues to work at the Groundskeeper II level, despite performing Groundskeeper III duties.

In September 2011, Mr. Coles filed a formal complaint against the Town. Sandra Cirincione, an attorney in the Town’s Human Resources Department, met with Mr. Coles and other personnel. On October 20, 2011, Ms. Cirincione told Mr. Coles to expect a resolution within 30 days. Mr. Coles was not contacted by Ms. Cirincione until April 18, 2012 — six months later — when he received a record of resolution stating the matter had been resolved. Mr. Coles was asked to sign the record but refused and instead requested a formal hearing. He was not offered the opportunity for such a hearing until after he had retained counsel. Since filing his grievance, Mr. Coles said his situation has not improved and he continues to experience racial discrimination in the workplace.

On March 31, 2015, U.S District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ruled that the matter will proceed to trial, on the grounds that Mr. Coles was subjected to a hostile work environment.

“We are pleased to learn that Mr. Coles’ lawsuit has been allowed to proceed,” Mr. Brewington said. “My client continues to experience racial discrimination and harassment by his supervisors and yet the Town has done nothing to remedy the situation. He has not been promoted and he has been relegated to more menial tasks. For someone with his experience and tenure, that is unacceptable.”

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