NYC Building Department Chief Faces Lawsuit for Racial Discrimination of Black Employees

At least 10 current and former black employees filed a lawsuit against the Department of Building chief alleging discrimination on the basis of race.

A New York City Building Department chief is facing a lawsuit for alleged racial discrimination against black inspectors. According to the discrimination lawsuit filed by 10 black inspectors, the Building official in question allegedly said that 'black people shouldn't be bosses' and bragged about knowing his local 'neo-Nazis.'

According to the lawsuit filed in the Manhattan Supreme Court, the Building Department chief, 54-year-old Jerry A. Wiggins allegedly used a hand gesture, rubbing the back of his wrist with two fingers, to imply skin color differences, said that DOB vehicles 'smelled' after being used by black employees and bashed their 'attitudes, work ethic or productivity'. The New York Post reported that Wiggins and DOB Marshal Salvatore Agostino were named in the lawsuit filed by the black DOB inspectors and investigators.

The black inspectors explained 'rampant racism' in the organization in their lawsuit alleging that the department allowed white and light-skinned employees to get 'unearned promotions or escape discipline,' while black employees were looked over because of their race.

Jerry A. Wiggins
Jerry A. Wiggins Screen grab - The New York Post

'Cold shoulder' treatment

A former black employee, Eric Taylor, who has since left the organization and is one of the people named in the case said that he loved his work when he joined the department in July 2017 as an investigator probing illegal conversions of buildings, tenant harassment, and construction-site safety. Taylor alleged that he was later transferred to Agostino's department and that's when the 'cold shoulder' treatment started. "They did not want us there, these non-black inspectors and bosses. I never worked around such a racist and discriminating group of individuals," he said.

Passed over for promotions

He also noted that black employees were instructed to call Agostino 'sir' while white employees had no such obligation. Taylor further alleged that he and other black employees were denied proper uniforms, including boots needed to visit construction sites and looked over for promotions. One of the female employees even believes she miscarried while on the job due to 'unnecessarily high burdens and stress she experienced while working with DOB.'

Taylor, who is suffering from prostate cancer, was fired in October 2018 without being given a reason for the same. "Their belief was that blacks shouldn't be in any higher up positions within the department of building," he said, before calling the apparent racism 'horrific and heinous.'

'Racism has no place in our city'

The DOB released a statement in response to the lawsuit and stated that "racism has no place in our city." The department further added that they're reviewing the lawsuit and are committed to a fair workplace. "We have a strong Equal Employment Opportunity policy to promote an inclusive work environment for everyone at the agency," the statement added.