Metro

Lawsuit alleges Buildings Department rife with racism

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A city Buildings Department chief allegedly bragged about knowing his local “neo-Nazis” and claimed black people shouldn’t be bosses, according to a shocking discrimination lawsuit filed by 10 black agency inspectors.

Jerry A. Wiggins, 54, of Long Island, allegedly used a hand gesture — rubbing the back of his wrist with two fingers — to symbolize skin color differences; claimed DOB vehicles were “greasy and smelled” after being used by black employees; and slammed their “attitudes, work ethic or productivity,” according to the legal filing.

Wiggins, and DOB Marshal Salvatore Agostino, were cited in the court papers filed by the black DOB inspectors and investigators — who claim rampant racism in the department allowed white and light-skinned coworkers to get unearned promotions or escape discipline, while blacks were “passed over … or pushed out because of their race.”

Eric Taylor, 56, who is black and one of the few people in the case who has since left the DOB, joined the department in July 2017 as an investigator probing illegal conversions of buildings, tenant harassment and construction-site safety.

“I loved it,” he said of the work.

He was eventually transferred to Agostino’s unit, where “we were given a cold shoulder. The environment was very tense. 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 added, noting Agostino wanted black subordinates to call him “sir.”

“I never saw any white counterparts talk to him in that fashion,” Taylor said.

He and other black investigators were denied proper uniforms, including boots needed to visit construction sites; passed over for promotions handed to white or light-skinned workers who failed civil service exams; and targeted if they became ill, according to the Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit.

One of the workers believes she miscarried due to the “unnecessarily high burdens and stress she experienced while working with DOB.” Another said they had their department vehicle taken away after having knee surgery.

Taylor — who is battling prostate cancer — was given a surprise field evaluation about six weeks before he was fired in October 2018. He wasn’t given a reason for the termination.

“Their belief was that blacks shouldn’t be in any higher up positions within the department of building and they were proactively, and made it part of their business, to rid at least their division of black people,” said attorney Brad Gerstman, who called the alleged racism “horrific and heinous.”

The workers, who are seeking unspecified damages, want a court to bar the bad behavior of DOB higher ups, Gerstman said.

Jerry A. Wiggins, above, of Long Island, allegedly used a hand gesture -- rubbing the back of his wrist with two fingers -- to symbolize skin color differences.
Jerry A. Wiggins, above, of Long Island, allegedly used a hand gesture — rubbing the back of his wrist with two fingers — to symbolize skin color differences.

“What they want most is wholesale change within the workplace, so the ones still remaining can work without the overt racism and related penalties and retaliation,” he said.

Many of the workers who came forward are still employed by DOB, he said, adding, “They want to keep their jobs, which makes it more of an intolerable situation for them.”

He slammed the de Blasio administration for allowing the problem to fester.

“How can these people run as progressives, manage as progressives?” he fumed.

Wiggins and Agostino couldn’t be reached for comment.

The DOB said in a statement that “racism has no place in our city,” adding it would review the lawsuit and insisted the department “is committed to a fair workplace, and we have a strong Equal Employment Opportunity policy to promote an inclusive work environment for everyone at the agency.

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