Clarence Bradley has taken the first step toward getting his city job back.
He retained prominent civil rights attorney Steven M. Cohen of the law firm of Hogan Willig, and on March 23, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the city treated him differently than other employees with similar sets of circumstances.
Mr. Bradley was the only black man among those listed.
Mr. Cohen says Mr. Bradley, who was put on unpaid leave April 2011, and fired in September, is seeking reinstatement of his position with seniority, back pay and sick days.
There may be a lawsuit later for deprivation of his civil rights.
"This EEOC complaint is just dipping our toe in the water," said Mr. Cohen. "It will give us an opportunity to see the evidence the city has and see what witnesses have to say, and this could be the basis for a lawsuit. Especially if they find no probable cause at this level and give us a 'right to sue' letter. Then we can bring a Federal Action under 42 USC 1983, and we would be able to avail ourselves of the full panoply of discovery that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for ... which is a lot more intensive than the EEOC."
Mr. Bradley has so far discounted the idea of suing the city for a monetary award, saying he is only "looking to get his job back."
The complaint triggers an EEOC investigation. There may be a hearing before an administrative law judge, although Mr. Cohen admitted "in the 90th percentile of these cases, they actually settle before a hearing." Among examples of disparate treatment cited in Mr. Bradley's complaint is the matter of Councilmember Kristin Grandinetti.
After the Niagara Falls Reporter broke the story of how the councilmember received $5,670 more in 2011 than she was entitled to because of an incorrect listing of her status on paperwork required for payments for opting out of health insurance, Mayor Paul Dyster defended her, telling the media that it was an "honest mistake," caused by a "clerical error."
Mayor Dyster is Miss Grandinetti's neighbor. He campaigned for her in 2009. Since elected, she has an almost perfect record of voting to support the mayor's initiatives and upholding the mayor's vetoes. She also said it was an "honest mistake," despite cashing 26 checks for almost $500 more per month than she was entitled to.
If Mr. Bradley's case is similar, the role of the Dyster administration was markedly different.
Mr. Bradley worked for the city's Department of Public Works since 2003. In 2009, he was appointed assistant department director of the Zone Outreach Objective Mission, or ZOOM team.
Mr. Bradley, neither a neighbor nor campaign supporter of Mayor Dyster, became a critic of the Dyster administration's DPW and of Mayor Dyster's attitude toward minorities.
Mr. Bradley said, "At first I tried to be friendly and helpful to him, even though I was passed over for promotion. Every time I shook hands with him, he would reluctantly take my hand and then would wipe his hand off on his pants. I thought it was me. But then I noticed that whenever a minority shook hands with him, he would wipe it off in his pocket."
Mr. Bradley said he observed a pattern of racism in the Department of Public Works under David Kinney.
He said he made three separate reports to the city's EEOC. He called the New York State Attorney General's Office for a year straight. A representative from the Attorney General, the Reporter confirmed, interviewed several DPW employees. It was no secret that Mr. Bradley was a whistleblower and not liked among some of the upper echelon of the Dyster administration.
The opportunity came for the mayor to retaliate.
According to Mr. Bradley, who suffers from diabetes, he fell into a coma in autumn 2009 and was hospitalized at Mount St. Mary's Hospital for several weeks. After he exhausted sick leave and personal leave time, he filed for unemployment.
Mr. Bradley, however, as he was later to learn, was ineligible for unemployment, because he was not technically unemployed but on unpaid leave, an "honest mistake," he said. The "mistake" was made apparently not only by him, but also very likely by his supervisor, DPW Head Kinney, as well as by the Human Resources Department and the Payroll Department, who all should have had a hand in approving, as his employer, his unemployment status, as required by New York State law.
Mr. Bradley returned to work in February 2011.
Meantime, according to Mayor Dyster, a "routine review" of payroll records in January 2010 revealed Mr. Bradley, during his illness, had received seven unemployment checks while on unpaid leave. In spite of the city approving his unemployment, Mayor Dyster reported Mr. Bradley to the New York State Department of Labor, alleging he had engaged in fraud.
An investigation was completed without once talking to Mr. Bradley and with the Dyster administration possibly withholding pertinent information as to how they signed off on his request for unemployment in the first place. Mayor Dyster -- and it will need to be investigated -- may have used the color of authority to push state officials to prosecute. Coming from a mayor of a city, this would have had a decided impact on the state's decision to prosecute.
On the morning of April 5, 2011, a plainclothes officer from the New York State Bureau of Criminal Investigation came to City Hall seeking Mr. Bradley's address in order to issue him an appearance ticket on charges arising from his illegally receiving unemployment benefits.
Learning the police officer was at City Hall, the mayor proposed to summon Mr. Bradley to him. While the officer waited in another office, the mayor informed the local media that an arrest was imminent at City Hall.
Meanwhile, City Administrator Donna Owens contacted Mr. Bradley and instructed him to come to her office, without disclosing the purpose of the meeting. Up until this time, Mr. Bradley had no idea he had done anything wrong.
Imagine his shock when, in the waiting room outside her office, files past him Miss Owens, City Attorney Craig Johnson and City EEOC Officer Ruby Pulliam, followed by another man he was to soon learn was a State Police detective.
Once inside the office, Miss Owens began to accuse Mr. Bradley, he contends.
"The officer then handed me an appearance ticket," Mr. Bradley said, "and we were about to leave, when Donna Owens and Craig Johnson both cried at once, 'Wait, aren't you going to handcuff him?' The officer wouldn't. 'He doesn't have a record.' They argued with him. Johnson was upset. He said, 'You have to.' Owens said, 'The mayor wants you to handcuff him.' The officer got upset. He said, 'No. I serve 15 of these a month, and we don't handcuff people for appearance tickets.'"
Meantime, outside the city administrator's office in the lobby, Mayor Dyster gathered members of the media who had recently arrived at City Hall and helped place them in advantageous positions.
Mr. Bradley continued, "I had agreed to go down to the barracks with the police officer and get fingerprinted and then be arraigned. As the officer and I walked out of the office, and not handcuffed, there's Channel 2, Channel 4, the newspaper photographers, everyone, all coming around filming me. The police officer, who was white, said to me, 'I've never seen anything like this. They really railroaded you.'"
As Mr. Bradley left City Hall, Mayor Dyster held a press conference, telling the media how he was cleansing city government from corruption. Mr. Bradley, Mayor Dyster assured them, was guilty, and he would suspend him from work immediately and without pay.
The story was great theater, and of course top news, and Mayor Dyster enjoyed a spate of publicity he got for his role in uncovering and eliminating "fraud" in his administration.
Five months later, Mr. Bradley pleaded guilty to a single count of petit larceny in a deal with the Niagara County District Attorney's Office that spared the
now-unemployed man from an expensive trial he could not afford.
"We (officially) fired him," Mayor Dyster told the Niagara Gazette. "This type of conduct is not tolerated by this administration."
Which brings us back to Mr. Bradley's complaint.
Besides Councilmember Grandinetti, another example mentioned of disparate treatment is that of Willie Santiago, who is listed in the complaint as "white" and is a foreman in the DPW.
Mr. Santiago was given privileges and "greater supervisory authority even though he was my subordinate," Mr. Bradley's complaint reads.
Readers of the Reporter may remember that Mr. Santiago was arrested as a direct result of an investigative report published in this paper for his role in the theft of city millings. Mayor Dyster was a councilmember then.
Mr. Santiago pleaded guilty before City Court Judge Angelo Morinello to a reduced charge and was spared jail time. The late Armand Cerrone, a contractor, also pleaded guilty.
Mr. Santiago not only kept his job, but during the Dyster administration, he not only got a substantial raise, but was permitted to supervise millings work in the city, alone and unmonitored.
Mr. Bradley contends that Mr. Santiago is a friend of Mr. Kinney, and a political ally of Mayor Dyster and his campaign manager, lawyer Craig Touma. Mr. Santiago is scheduled to retire next month, and thanks to the raise, will likely secureÊa larger pension at taxpayer expense.
Also mentioned in the complaint is Mr. Bradley's supervisor, Mr. Kinney, head of the DPW. Mr. Bradley wrote that Mr. Kinney was "promoted to directorship behind the scenes, rendering the selection process a sham. Mr. Kinney at the time was far less knowledgeable about DPW operations than I."
While it may or may not be true that Mr. Kinney may have known far less than Mr. Bradley about the DPW, he is a political supporter of the mayor. Mr. Bradley has alleged that Mr. Kinney and Mayor Dyster sought to remove him, in part because Mr. Kinney wanted to give his job to Michael Lynch, the former curator of the city golf course.
After Mr. Bradley's removal, that is precisely what happened. Mr. Lynch presently holds Mr. Bradley's former job. It was not lost on several DPW workers who spoke to the Reporter that Mr. Lynch and Mr. Kinney are known to play cards together regularly with other intimate friends.
The last name on the complaint is Thaddeus Buchalski, who is white, a maintenance worker at the Municipal Building who, according to police records, stole two city laptop computers valued at about $1,000.
Mr. Bradley wrote that Mr. Buchalski "stole computers from the police station and was given his job back." Is it because Mr. Bradley is black? Was it because he was a whistleblower? Was it a political design to sabotage Mr. Bradley, a deep-laid conspiracy, to lie in wait, waiting for a slip-up, one mistake, to remove a man and destroy his life?
This is the central question for the entire Dyster administration, and the investigation is about to commence.
Mayor Paul Dyster declined to be interviewed for this story.