A former longtime worker at Danbury City Hall has filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality, claiming she was retaliated against after complaining of racial discrimination and hostility.
In her lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, 58-year-old Marlene Moore-Callands, who is black, claims her supervisors treated her differently from white colleagues due to her race. She also claims the city knew about the alleged behavior, but did nothing to stop it.
Danbury Corporation Counsel and Chief Legal Officer Robert Yamin declined to comment on the lawsuit. But the city’s outside counsel at FordHarrison issued a brief statement Tuesday, saying it could say little on personnel matters.
“The city emphatically denies any wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend the claims brought by Ms. Moore-Callands,” Johanna Zelman, office managing partner for FordHarrison said.
Moore-Callands worked for the city for 30 years. She started in its tax collection division in 1988, and retired as a customer service representative in the city’s permit center in September 2018. She claimed violations of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Her suit alleges her immediate supervisor, who is now retired and was the manager of the permit division, gave preferential treatment to some employees.
The complaint alleges the manager ”had for many years arranged for caucasian workers doing work comparable to the plaintiff to receive more compensation for their work than the plaintiff.” On one occasion, the suit claims, the manager approved of displays of the Confederate flag. The permit city manager could not be reached Tuesday.
The lawsuit claims that after complaining about “a racially insensitive atmosphere” within the office, Sean Hearty, director of permit coordination and the city’s zoning enforcement officer, called Moore-Callands to his office, where he allegedly berated her.
Hearty, the suit says, told Moore-Callands the Confederate flag was “the symbol of the state of Virginia and that the plaintiff is ‘from the projects’ and ‘should be used to these things.”’ Hearty also said she was “too sensitive” when she complained about a contractor who told her to “go back to Africa” after the two had words regarding NFL players who did not stand for the national anthem. Hearty declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.
Moore-Callands, the suit says, complained to Danbury’s Human Resources Department about both her immediate supervisor and Hearty, but the city took no action.
The lawsuit further states the plaintiff asked permission in early 2018 to work overtime but that Hearty told her no, even though, the lawsuit alleges, white employees were given that benefit. In addition, the lawsuit states, Moore-Callands was not compensated for working during lunch hours while other employees were.
Moore-Callands said she her managers also retaliated against her by denying a request for five weeks of accrued vacation before her 2018 retirement. Her lawsuit says that request “was the standard practice for municipal employees.”
Longtime New Haven solo practitioner John Williams, who represents Moore-Callands, told the Connecticut Law Tribune that high-level city leaders knew about the conflict.
“The mayor had personal knowledge that these things were going on and did nothing,” Williams claimed.
Mayor Mark Boughton declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, except to say that Williams likes “to engage in a lot of hyperbole.”
Williams, meanwhile, said his client is “a strong woman who is deeply troubled by what happened to her.”
“The racially insensitive atmosphere in the office goes back about a decade,” he said. “She finally got fed up with it and started complaining.”
The lawsuit seeks attorney fees and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The case will be heard in front of U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello.