Alleging that Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration wanted a different kind of workforce in place at the troubled Child and Family Services Agency, nine of its former workers recently filed a class action lawsuit charging that their terminations earlier this year were laced with race and age discrimination.
“There was a pattern of dismissing primarily Black employees, all over age 40, when the city announced it was going into a reduction in force at CFSA May,” group spokesman Dwight Kirk told the AFRO. “They pretty much re-titled the jobs and dismissed the workers, then reposted the jobs with a new title and then added new job requirements.”
According to Kirk, prospects in line for the new, mostly paraprofessional, jobs now also had to have a bachelor’s degree, which he said discounted the experience of people who had already been doing the work.
However, George Johnson, executive director of the AFSCME District 20 Council, described the reduction in force (RIF) as a hoax to disguise the CFSA and Fenty’s administration’s obsession with shifting the city workforce in a direction that increasingly marginalizes African-American workers.
“But we will continue to stand shoulder- to-shoulder with these outstanding professional men and women as they pursue justice,” Johnson said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 13 in U. S. District Court, charges that when CFSA sent out 91 RIF letters dated May 6, all but two were addressed to African Americans, although they had performed their duties satisfactorily. It further states CFSA misread federal guidelines regarding the requirement of college degrees for certain jobs – and that paraprofessionals, in this instance, are not held to such restrictions.
The plaintiffs, all of whom had worked at the agency between five and 18 years, took their legal action just one day before the heated Sept. 14 primary in which Fenty lost his second bid for mayor to City Council Chairman Vincent Gray.
In 2008, Fenty took heat in light of the Banita Jacks case as well as in another last year in which two young girls were murdered after being placed in foster care. Both situations proved an embarrassment to the mayor who began to take steps to rectify mishandling of cases. In the Jacks case, several workers lost their jobs.
Kirk said there appears to be a pattern where CFSA, rather than dealing with its “systemic” problems, tried to turn over the workforce and scapegoat remaining employees. The organization’s efforts have not been profitable for the city or the mayor, Kirk added.
“Those workers who were fired during the Jacks case have won every appeal that they have filed, and the Fenty administration has lost every attempt to overturn the rulings that basically say those workers were unfairly fired and that they should be reinstated with full pay and benefits.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, David Rose, said he believes they have a strong case. He also said they gave notice to both Fenty and CFSA officials several days prior to their filing, but to date, no one has responded.
“The defendants never really gave a business reason except to say that ‘We’re going to do it,’” Rose said. “We wrote letters to the mayor and to the attorney general on Sept. 1, saying we were going to file in 10 days and they didn’t choose to call us or write us back.”
The AFRO also sought comment from the city, but had no response by press time.