Federal authorities on Thursday accused the Reading Parking Authority of discriminating against Hispanic employees by ignoring years' worth of ethnic slurs and threats made against them by co-workers and supervisors.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit that alleges the parking authority violated federal anti-discrimination law by failing to stop the harassment and punish the culprits.
"No one should have to endure unlawful harassment due to their national origin or retaliation for speaking out against such discrimination," Jocelyn Samuels, an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement released on the Justice Department's website.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeks monetary damages for several current and former employees. The Justice Department also wants to require the parking authority to develop new anti-discrimination policies.
The authority's executive director, Patrick Mulligan, who just took on the job last month, referred comment Thursday to its attorney, James Lillis, who said the authority would respond to the allegations in court. Lillis declined to comment further.
Hispanic parking authority employees were subjected to "pervasive ethnic slurs, offensive comments and threats of physical harm by their co-workers and supervisors" beginning as early as 2007 and continuing for several years, according to the Justice Department.
One employee, Henry Perez, claimed that co-workers routinely used ethnic slurs to refer to Hispanics; said Hispanics should be hanged or tied behind cars and dragged; and called Hispanic women sexually promiscuous. Perez's tires were slashed, and co-workers once poured cement in a garbage can he was scheduled to empty, causing him to seriously injure his back, according to the suit.
Perez was disciplined for insubordination after he complained about the alleged harassment, with his supervisor explaining he was being punished because his complaints offended his co-workers, according to court papers.
Perez filed a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC referred the case to the Justice Department after its attempts to resolve the matter were unsuccessful.
"The EEOC is committed to ensuring that employees are not subjected to unlawful discrimination and harassment based on their national origin," said Spencer H. Lewis Jr., director of the EEOC's Philadelphia district office. "Employers must stop cruel and humiliating victimization of vulnerable employees when it is brought to their attention, instead of taking adverse action against them."