City Sued on Three-Count Complaint: HR Director Waterbury Sued for Harassment & Retaliation
RI Fair Employment Act; RI Civil Rights Act & Whistleblower Protection Act are Cited:
City of East Providence employee Lita Garrett has filed a three-count lawsuit with Rhode Island Superior Court. The Reporter has obtained the 15 page complaint which alleges that Garrett has sustained "injuries and losses due to the unlawful conduct of the City of East Providence and its agents and employees." Prominent veteran attorney, Thomas J. McAndrew is representing Garrett. McAndrew filed the lawsuit this week demanding that East Providence "adequately compensate her for her losses, both economic and non-economic, including but not limited to her loss of earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, and reasonable attorneys fees..."
Garrett and McAndrew allege that her "losses" occurred as a result of actions within the Department of Human Resources in City Hall. The complaint states that Garrett is suing the City of East Providence and Kathleen Waterbury "individually, and in her official capacity as the Director of Human Resources of the City of East Providence."
Garrett cites three legal counts for her lawsuit, the RI Fair Employment Act; RI Civil Rights Act & Whistleblower Protection Act. The lawsuit alleges that "The City of East Providence is liable for the acts of Waterbury..." The complaint is for actions between diverse dates of February 1, 2013 through July 2, 2015.
Garrett has previously filed claims of discrimination against the City with the RI Commission for Human Rights. On November 23, 2016 the City asked that Garrett's discrimination claims be terminated so claims could be heard in Court. In response, the Commission issued a "Right to Sue Notice," and Garrett has indeed sued in Superior Court.
Garrett was first employed by the City in 1995 and remains an employee to date. Garrett claims that prior to Waterbury's "discriminatory and retaliatory" actions against her, she was employed as a Confidential Secretary in the Human Resources Department. Garrett was the only African American employee in HR and one of three African Americans working in City Hall.
McAndrew asserts in the lawsuit that Garrett's job performance has been "exemplary and she has been repeatedly commended for the quality of her work." Garrett's immediate supervisor was Kathleen Waterbury.
The lawsuit outlines how Garrett was required to comply with numerous City ordinances governing the hiring, transfer, retirement and promotion of City employees. The complaint outlines all of the ordinances and laws regarding how the Personnel Hearing Board certifies the names of the highest ranking candidates and how eligibility lists must be legally handled.
The Garrett lawsuit alleges that "Defendant Kathleen Waterbury ordered employees in the Human Resources Department, including Lita Garrett, to take actions in violation of the municipal laws governing the hiring, transfer and promotion of City employees."
The complaint further alleges that "Waterbury retaliated against employees who reported or opposed these illegal acts by discriminating against these employees regarding their compensation, terms, conditions, location and privileges of employment."
Another assertion in the lawsuit is that "Waterbury ordered an HR Department employee to remove multiple names from a Promotion List. Both this employee and Ms. Garrett communicated to Waterbury their opposition to this action..." in violation of legal provisions.
The complaint alleges that Waterbury berated and yelled at both employees. "Why are you bothering me with trivial details like numbers and scores," Waterbury is charged with saying. McAndrews states that shortly after said incident, Waterbury ordered the termination of the employee who had opposed Waterbury's "illegal order."
The lawsuit goes on to mention several similar incidents of alleged harassment and alleged illegal requests of employees. The complaint states that Garrett was ordered to award an applicant residency points even though Garrett objected and told Waterbury the candidate appeared to be a Massachusetts resident.
Garrett maintains that "on several occasions Ms. Waterbury manipulated the testing and hiring process in violation of law in order to hire her friends or the friends and relatives of politically influential persons and officials."
The complaint also states that in 2014 an African American, applicant applied for a job and was placed as number three on the Eligibility List. After the first two applicants on the list, who were White, were hired by the City for the Highway Department, the next opening was not given to this African American who was next in line. This applicant contacted HR and asked Garrett for a copy of the eligibility list for a Laborers position, on which his name appeared.
Garrett states that out of caution she asked Waterbury's permission to divulge the list. Waterbury is alleged to have said that she "changed the process," and ordered Garrett not to provide the Eligibility List to the applicant. The complaint claims that the open Laborer's position would ordinarily be filled by the next name on the list, but was instead filled by a just retired East Providence police officer.
The complaint states that "this individual never took the examination for Laborer that the other candidates were required to take and his name never appeared on any Eligibility List or Certified List for this or any similar position." Garrett believed that the African American applicant had been discriminated against, in part on his race. Garrett complained to Waterbury and also lodged a complaint with Elmer Pina, Affirmative Action Officer who also reports to Waterbury.
Attorney McAndrew alleges that after Garrett complained about this matter, Waterbury initiated a series of retaliatory actions against Garrett. "These acts of retaliation by Waterbury against Ms. Garrett were taken because Garrett had opposed and complained of these illegal and improper hiring practices," writes McAndrew.
"Garrett was demoted and transferred from the Human Resource Department to the Highway Department. Her place of work was changed, her duties and responsibilities were downgraded, the number of hours she worked each week were increased, she was subjected to a reduction in pay, and other terms and conditions against Ms. Garrett were adversely affected," alleges the lawsuit.
"The actions of (Waterbury & City) as described constitute retaliation against the plaintiff (Garrett) for opposing the City's discriminatory hiring practices, all in violation of the RI Fair Employment Practices Act."
The suit demands her old job back, compensatory damages, costs for the suit, back pay and lost benefits and other relief as the Court deems proper for Garrett should she prevail. The suit also requests similar damages be awarded under the provisions of the RI Civil Rights Act and the RI Whistleblowers Protection Act. Garrett is represented by attorney Kevin F. Bowen as well as McAndrew.
City Has Lost Millions in Prior Lawsuits:
Thomas McAndrew, nicknamed "The Hammer" by many locals because of his tenacious and successful legal reputation, has represented many East Providence clients in actions against the City and School Department. He won most if not all of these cases. McAndrew once famously told former School Superintendent Taras Herbowy, "I want you to know up front, that I have represented many East Providence employees or officials and, respectfully, I would tell you that I usually win here. Let's settle this without much expense to all." Herbowy balked and McAndrew won that case.
Two former police chiefs and a high ranking police officer; a motorist in a brutality case, a school business manager, school custodians, a building inspector, City Hall Department heads and others, were all winning clients for Tom McAndrew. In an interview a few years ago McAndrew stated that "I really tried to head off these cases. It isn't fair to people for this to happen. The sad thing is that those responsible for these actions generally see no consequences for their actions. They disparage people and manufacture allegations. Not fair," reflected McAndrew.
In one of McAndrew's biggest cases against the city, former city Tax Assessor Ali Khorasani won a $580,000 bias claim. Khorasani claimed that he had been subjected to ethnic harassment and abuse. The complaint said that City officials “created a hostile work environment” and then retaliated against him when Khorasani complained to the state human rights commission in 1994. The city then fired Khorasani from an assistant city engineer’s post. After some two weeks of Court testimony the jury awarded Khorasani damages approaching $647,000 in back pay, interest and attorney fees. Additional punitive charges were also looming as Judge Judith Savage asked the jury to return and deliberate on “further damages”.
"Yes, I stay busy, especially in East Providence," McAndrew said at the time. “It’s about doing what is right and fair for everyone. It shouldn’t have to become a matter for the courts.”
McAndrew was unavailable for comment in the Garrett lawsuit. City Officials have not yet responded to a request for comment on the suit. The Law Department said they are aware of the matter but haven't received the actual complaint yet. The complaint has been delivered to the City Clerk's office in a document dated February 17, 2017.