Co-workers targeted a Black carpenter after he complained about racial discrimination at his Javits Convention Center jobsite, according to a new lawsuit.
Edward Saunders alleges that his colleagues threatened him, vandalized his car and tried to strike him with construction equipment — and then he was fired.
Saunders is suing the New York City District Council of Carpenters and the Javits Center, claiming that he was fired in April 2018 after reporting “racially discriminatory conduct.” The carpenter, who began working at Javits in 1995, alleges that his fellow union members launched a “campaign of retaliation” after he spoke up.
“He has been mistreated and abused, and we are trying to get justice for him,” said Daniel Kirschbaum, an attorney representing the worker. “Eddie Saunders is a sympathetic, hard worker. Nice guy. He was bullied and victimized for his race, and that’s what we’re going to prove.”
Representatives for the carpenters union did not immediately return requests for comment.
Tony Sclafani, a spokesperson for the Javits Center, said in a statement, “While we have not been served with this lawsuit, we do not tolerate any forms of discrimination and are proud to maintain a diverse workforce that reflects the vibrancy of our city and state.”
He added, “The Javits Center has previously prevailed against Mr. Saunders’ claims of discrimination, and we are confident we will prevail again.”
Saunders previously filed complaints with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board against the carpenters’ union and Javits. The first complaint, filed in 2016, was dismissed by an administrative judge. According to a report filed by the carpenters’ union in June 2020, the judge found that the union “did not violate the law.”
Saunders filed a second complaint in 2018 but withdrew it to file a federal lawsuit.
Javits, a state-owned complex on the West Side, has faced complaints from others over the years. In 2006, the convention center settled a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit for $8.4 million.
Saunders’ suit alleges that he and other African American workers at the center were “disfavored for work assignments,” disproportionately punished for paying union fees late and excluded from supervisory or managerial positions.
Saunders charges that he was demoted and lost out on work in 2015 after complaining internally about a loss of hours and what he saw as discriminatory treatment. The retaliation got worse after he filed the complaints with the state, Saunders alleges.
For example, while taking a test to become a certified boom operator, Saunders was allegedly labeled a “troublemaker” by the safety coordinator, who subjected him to tasks that no other testees faced, including rushing Saunders to operate the boom “faster and faster.”
During that time, his car was repeatedly vandalized and white coworkers made racist jokes around him and called him a “rat,” according to the lawsuit. In another incident, in June 2017, two supervisors who were using a boom to hang a large sign in the convention center allegedly tried to “swing the sign and hit [Saunders’] head with the sign or the boom arm.”
Saunders claims those same supervisors in March 2018 tried to prevent him from completing work by obstructing an aisle with a lifting machine. When Saunders started recording the incident, one of the supervisors allegedly yelled, “The next time you film me, you’re going to be dead outside.”
“Why wait? Let’s go,” Saunders responded, but he was fired soon after, the lawsuit states.
Saunders was also kicked out of Local 157, one of the unions that makes up the NYC District Council. The District Council has a long-standing agreement in place at Javits guaranteeing the hiring of union carpenters to set up and break down convention displays, along with other work at the center.
In June, the District Council’s independent monitor indicated that the union is not yet ready to shed court supervision — in place since the 1990s — but has made “tremendous strides.”
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]