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Black employee, NAACP allege discrimination at Sacramento City Hall

Sacramento City Hall on Tuesday night, April 29, 2014, before the Sacramento City Council meeting.
Sacramento City Hall on Tuesday night, April 29, 2014, before the Sacramento City Council meeting.

Black employees at City Hall face “an environment of racial discrimination and harassment,” according to a complaint filed by a black employee and backed by the California branch of the NAACP.

Human resources analyst Kimberly Isaacs, 54, filed a complaint on July 19, 2016, to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. She alleges that she was demoted twice for the same incident over a nine month period, and that her double punishment was based both on race and age.

That incident involved miscalculating payments for retirees in the old Sacramento City Employees Retirement System, or SCERS, she said. An outside audit determined that the city had overpaid some retirees by $2.8 million and underpaid others by $247,000 in a three-year time frame. Auditors believed that similar errors had occurred for several years before that as well.

During the initial demotion in July 2015, Isaacs’ title and duties were reduced but her pay remained the same. During the second demotion in May 2016, Isaacs’ pay was reduced by more than $20,000, she said.

Isaacs is asking for a settlement of about $500,000 from the city, according to a source familiar with the complaint.

City Attorney James Sanchez declined to comment on the complaint.

Isaacs’ complaint names City Manager John Shirey personally, alleging he has “created an environment of racial discrimination and harassment” throughout City Hall.

Betty Williams, legal redress chair for the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that she had met with Shirey to discuss the allegations of pervasive discrimination and was not satisfied with the outcome of that conversation.

“The culture is that when it comes to African Americans, they have to jump through additional hoops to even be considered for promotions or raises,” Williams said. “It has to do a lot with salaries, a lot to do with promotions, a lot to do with benefited employment opportunities ... We have the experience we have the training, but our color stops us from getting the job, that’s the perception.”

The NAACP is creating recommendations for the city and may consider taking other actions. Williams was uncertain what next steps were for the organization, but said she believed Shirey needed to further address the problem.

“This is the worst city manager that African Americans have ever had to be ruled under (in Sacramento), for the past three decades,” she said.

Shirey did not return a call for comment, and city public information officer Linda Tucker did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.

Williams said she has talked to numerous black employees at City Hall who have described racial discrimination “at all levels.” She has also attended two monthly meetings with “hundreds” of black employees in which the issues were discussed, she said.

Mayor Kevin Johnson and some council members attended those meetings as well, according to Williams. The council has four African American members: Johnson, Larry Carr, Allen Warren and Rick Jennings.

Based in part on concerns over employment bias in the city, Carr in May asked the city auditor to perform an audit of gender and ethnic diversity of the city’s workforce. Recommendations based on that audit were discussed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

That audit, while providing only numbers without analysis, showed that minorities and women are underrepresented and underpaid in the city’s top jobs.

Black residents account for 12.9 percent of the city’s population, and represent 11 percent of the city’s workforce, but 10 percent of management positions.

In all but two of 17 city departments examined, more than 50 percent of managers are white. Of the 13 directors that oversee city departments, 11 are white. The city’s chief information officer is Hispanic, and the director of public safety accountability is black, according to the audit.

The city hired a new human resources director, Melissa Chaney, at the beginning of the year, and charged her with creating recommendations to address the diversity issues.

Chaney on Tuesday night detailed some of those recommendations, including hiring a new diversity manager for $180,000 that will not only examine hiring practices but also make recommendations to fix any systemic bias.

In an interview prior to the meeting, Chaney said she believes that some minorities inside City Hall may perceive discrimination because there has not been a robust investigation of many complaints.

“I can’t comment on anything prior, whether it has been racist or not,” said Chaney of the allegations against the city. “I haven’t been here. But I do understand why there is a feeling that they are not being heard.”

She said that when she took over the department in February, she found that some discrimination complaints had been inadequately investigated. She has changed city policy so that all claims will be investigated, she said. Action will also now be taken if a problem is found, even if it does not violate law.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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