Black employees file discrimination suit against city of Lansing

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor accused of racial discrimination — again

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Click here to read the lawsuit

THURSDAY, Aug. 13 — Nine Black current and former city of Lansing employees have sued the city, the mayor, the firefighters’ union and others for racial discrimination and race-based retaliation.

Each claims to have been subjected to race-based “unwelcome communication and conduct” that “substantially interfered with their employment,” according to the complaint. As a result, Schor’s administration and officials at the fire union are accused of violating the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in 30th Circuit Court, by several current and former members of the Lansing Fire Department: former Chief Randy Talifarro, Maintenance Captain Michael Demps, Firefighter Wesley Demps, Battalion Chief Terry Israel, Administrative Chief David Odom, Staff Officer Bruce Odom, and Fire Logistics Chief Jwan Vanez Randell.

Fired mayoral scheduler Natasha Atkinson and former Information Technology Director Collin Boyce are also suing.

All nine named the city, Schor, Deputy Mayor Samantha Harkins, International Association of Firefighters Local 421 and former Union President Eric Weber as defendants.

Both Schor and Weber, when reached for comment, said they were unaware of the suit. Both declined comment.

The complaint also alleges they were “subjected to repeated and continuous discriminatory treatment, hostile working environments and adverse employment actions” including suspensions, terminations and being “forced out of their positions” due to their race.

Defendants in the lawsuit — which seeks a minimum of $75,000 in damages in addition to attorney fees — also argued that in many instances, they had complained to upper management, only to find themselves retaliated against for voicing discrimination concerns.

“The city of Lansing suffers from systemic racism which plaintiffs experienced almost immediately after beginning their careers. Plaintiffs were constantly being targeted due to their race, creating hostile and offensive work environments,” according to the recent complaint.

The lawsuit is at least the second racial discrimination filed against the city since Schor took office. Firefighter Michael Lynn Jr. also remains involved in litigation against the city. He and his wife, Erica Lynn, were the first to report the lawsuit tonight on their podcast Merica 20 to Life.

Here are excerpts from the suit:

— Deputy Mayor Samantha Harkins told Natasha Atkinson, one of the plaintiffs who was fired in February, that when she sees Nicholas Tate, the city’s chief administrative officer, “an African American male, her ‘ovaries scream out at her’ and that she ‘LOVES black men.’”

— The suit describes a “loud discussion” between Harkins and Joan Jackson Johnson, a Black woman and the former director of human relations who was suspended in January because of alleged financial improprieties. Harkins yelled at Jackson Johnson, who replied,, “’I’m not scared of you’ and Ms. Harkins responded ‘I’m not scared of you.’”

— After that incident, Atkinson said Harkins told her that “professional black women have a bad attitude” and “’chip on their shoulder, maybe rightfully so, but they have to learn how to take direction.’”

— Harkins told Atkinson that communications manager Valarie Marchand had “’a problem with black people’ and that Atkinson “’intimidated” her. Atkinson said Harkins blamed Marchand’s fear on having grown up in Troy, Michigan, and hence “did not associate with ‘black people’ so she was scared of Plaintiff,” referring to Atkinson.

Check back with lansingcitypulse.com for updates to this developing story.

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