Female and Minority Custodians in New York Can Keep Benefits Won in Discrimination Case, Judge Rules

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
September 12, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — A federal judge in Brooklyn has upheld job benefits for female and minority school custodians in a case that has been in the courts for the past ten years. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents 22 of 59 custodians who were awarded benefits in 1999, called the decision an important victory against discrimination in the workplace.

“This decision will allow hard-working women and minority custodians in the city of New York to keep their benefits and their jobs,” said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “For decades, women and people of color were effectively cut out of the custodian recruitment process in New York City schools. This settlement is an important and necessary way of creating equal opportunities in the workplace.”

At issue is the 1999 settlement agreement in U.S. v. New York City Board of Education on behalf of women and minority custodians. The agreement ended a lawsuit in which the Justice Department had accused the Board of Education of employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex in its recruitment and hiring of permanent custodians and custodian engineers. The agreement awarded the few women and minorities working in provisional jobs as custodians retroactive seniority and permanent employment status. Until then, the custodian positions had gone almost exclusively to white men. According to the Board of Education’s own records, 99 percent of its 831 permanent custodial employees were men, and 92 percent were white.

The ACLU intervened in the case at the request of the custodians after the Justice Department abruptly reversed itself under the Bush administration and declined to defend the agreement against a challenge brought by an activist legal group. The challengers had asked the court to immediately strip permanent employment status and retroactive seniority from all women, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians who received it under the settlement agreement.

In a 91-page decision, Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York called the case “a veritable tour de force of virtually every aspect of affirmative action law in the employment arena” and agreed that the awards given in the 1999 settlement were an appropriate remedy for past discrimination in employing custodians. Specifically, Judge Block upheld the job permanency benefits given to the women and minority custodians in the lawsuit, and further upheld the retroactive seniority granted to the female custodians.

Among the custodians represented by the ACLU is Janet Caldero, who works at Intermediate School 125 in Queens. Caldero was hired in 1992, shortly after the Justice Department began investigating the Board of Education for employment discrimination. But her employment — and that of other women hired around this time — was provisional, meaning they lacked civil service protections, did not accrue seniority, and were not eligible for various salary enhancing benefits.

“I am pleased that justice has prevailed even after the Justice Department dropped our case and turned its back on us,” Caldero said.

A copy of the court’s decision filed late yesterday is online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/employ/26711lgl20060911.html

More information on this case, including declarations from the custodians, is online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/gen/13242prs20021023.html

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