Discrimination is enormously costly in human terms and, as Tempe officials have learned, it can also can be very costly in monetary terms. The city was on the losing end of a $2.4 million judgment in federal court last week in a discrimination lawsuit filed by nine current and former employees.
Tempe officials have acknowledged for several years that there was a long-running bias problem, particularly in the city’s Public Works Department.
Following a scathing audit that uncovered the discrimination, mainly toward Hispanic employees, former Mayor Neil Giuliano and his City Council ordered changes, and current Mayor Hugh Hallman is following through. Management and policy changes have been made and a diversity director has been hired.
But, as the federal court jury determined last week, the damage already had been done. "If they had done that (made the changes) before, we wouldn’t be here today," juror Michele Biondolino of Phoenix told the Tribune’s Gary Grado.
From what has come to light about the scandal over the past six years, the jury’s awards, ranging from $175,000 to $475,000 for the nine former and current employees, are, if anything, conservative. The plaintiffs listed a number of grievances, including being subject to racial slurs and harsh treatment in the workplace, being assigned the least desirable jobs, and being passed over for promotions.
Remember, these are no longer merely allegations. The city audit confirmed many of the complaints and city officials have acknowledged the problems were serious and long-standing. They resulted not only in humiliation and difficult working conditions for these employees, but also loss of income due to being shut out of promotions.
Taxpayers, of course, will pay the monetary price, both directly from city coffers and indirectly through municipal insurance premiums (that also are paid by many other cities). Justice and human decency demand that Tempe and every other of our East Valley cities have policies and actual means in place to detect discrimination if it occurs and to root it out immediately. Clearly, as this eye-popping jury award shows, if also is the fiscally prudent thing to do.
This is a good time for each of our municipalities to take stock and make sure they’ve got the necessary preventive and remedial measures in place.