NJ Transit recently settled a $3.65 million racial discrimination lawsuit with seven former African American employees, who cited racial insults from supervisors as the cause for legal action.
In January 2014, accusations surfaced after a supervisor, no longer employed by the agency, put a makeshift noose around an employee’s neck and boasted, “This is how things were handled in the South.” The same supervisor was also accused of using a racial slur in a professional setting.
Attorneys reported incidents of unfair treatment from the supervisors, as well as unequal pay compared to the defendants’ white colleagues. Other charges are also included within the multimillion-dollar settlement. The plaintiffs reported they were never properly informed about receiving pay increases because of freezes on merit raises, and white co-workers being reclassified by NJ Transit to a position that bypassed the freeze on merit increases. One employee mentioned that “non-African-American colleagues received considerable larger pay increases despite no change in their responsibilities.”
This case comes merely four years after a similar discrimination lawsuit was filed by minority police officers over racial slurs, this one costing $5.8 million to settle totaling nearly $10 million for both lawsuits.
Kevin Barber, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in both discrimination cases against NJ Transit, deems the actions by the agency’s employees as “something I’ve never seen before.” He continues, “There’s an absolute failure to investigate and monitor these clear allegations of racial discrimination and unequal pay. It’s a disgrace to our state.”
Barber said that while many NJ Transit employees do not engage in discriminatory behavior, a problem with many management workers is evident.
“There are a lot of great people in New Jersey Transit,” he said. “I’ll tell you, I was really impressed by the workforce there, but unfortunately, there is a significant portion of the management that is biased, that is discriminatory, and frankly, has a plantation-like mentality.”
Barber’s co-counsel, Nancy Erika Smith, confirmed that NJ Attorney General’s Office agreed to settle at $3.65 million. “I would love to not make money on these cases,” Smith said. “I would prefer that the state appoint a law firm that’s not interested in getting rich on these cases to investigate these claims.” Smith also shared her opinion on the current employment situation at NJ Transit, stating her clients worked in a “cesspool where they’re repeatedly passed over” for opportunities and are exposed to racial inequality.
Among pending trial decisions, one senior employee claimed a supervisor who is still employed with NJ Transit subjected him to “repeated acts of retaliation” for speaking to attorneys against NJ Transit’s favor. During a deposition, attorneys representing the senior worker claimed, “Shortly after this lawsuit was filed in 2014, defendant Schworn sent (senior worker) a copy of the complaint and his comments on it and defendant Schworn, his supervisor, routinely attempted to get him to talk about the lawsuit including over lunch and even said ‘I guess, you know, we should just be careful the versions of the truth we say.'”
The firm handling the case is McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney, and Carpenter. They have billed the state over $1.5 million since the case commenced in 2014.
A spokeswoman for the transit authorities claimed they could not comment until the case is finalized. “There is still a process for the matter to go through before it is deemed final and therefore, public record,” the spokeswoman said. “The case has not been processed yet. NJ Transit cannot comment any further.”