NAACP letter details claims against Pittsfield
PITTSFIELD -- In its complaint over city hiring practices, the local chapter of the NAACP cites a lack of adherence to affirmative action policies, specific instances of alleged discrimination and statistics on the percentage of people of color working for city departments or the school system.
The Berkshire chapter of the NAACP announced Thursday it had filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over long-standing issues related to hiring. The complaint contends this has done "grave harm to people of color."
The organization's 10-page cover letter, sent to the four agencies, says that in June members of the group met with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and other city officials "to express concerns over the perceived lack of good faith when hiring minorities from our community for municipal positions."
Bianchi said at that time he was unaware whether the city had an affirmative action policy in place, the complaint states. The mayor later said the policy -- adopted in the early 1990s -- was located. It now is being updated by the city's newly re-established Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, which will meet for the second time on Wednesday at City Hall.
The complaint states that several concerns emerged from the meeting at City Hall, including that the city "had been accepting state and federal [grant] funds, and as such, was required to have an affirmative action policy in place;" that the policy was found to be stored away and was "subsequently made available for our review;" and that, "It appears to not have been enforced for possibly two decades by the city of Pittsfield."
Over the next five months, the complaint states, there were a series of meetings and communications involving NAACP chapter members and city and school officials. "Through these ongoing discussions, a prudent person could conclude and allege in a complaint such as ours that the city of Pittsfield has both failed to make appropriate efforts to recruit, as well as failed to hire qualified candidates of color for municipal positions."
The complaint also states that no affirmative action officer had been appointed prior to the discussions, and that the personnel director was not qualified for "affirmative action oversight responsibilities" when he was hired in July.
In addition, the complaint alleges that a qualified African-American woman applied for that position but was not granted an interview.
In late July, the NAACP Education Committee met with newly hired school Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, according to the complaint, which said discussion focused on two qualified teachers of color who had submitted job applications.
One woman, it said, was interviewed but not hired, but a white male teacher said to have more experience was hired for the position. The complaint goes on to question the explanations for the hiring decision the superintendent provided.
The woman eventually was hired by the school system, the complaint states, but only after city officials were aware the chapter had decided to "cease communications with the city and to investigate the options for filing complaints with state and federal oversight organizations."
The second minority candidate, who had taught summer school and tutored for several years, "was not even granted an interview," the complaint states.
The complaint also says the NAACP learned that less than 2 percent of school employees, or 10 employees including five teachers, are people of color.
An African-American paraprofessional hired at Conte Community School in 2011 also alleges possible retaliation in the workplace after reporting alleged "unacceptable treatment of students of color" to both the principal and superintendent."
The woman allegedly "began to experience a hostile work environment," according to the complaint, such as by having a phone removed from her office, having her office moved to a closet, and having her position eliminated at the end of the school year.
The complaint continues: "Communications broke down in August between the NAACP and the city of Pittsfield due to the NAACP membership's belief that the city of Pittsfield, including the School Department, was not operating in good faith."
Also included with a packet accompanying the complaint are statistics on education failure rates, school dropout rates, discipline rates in schools; teen pregnancy rates, juvenile justice system contact, Berkshire County House of Correction incarceration rates, unemployment rates and economic disparity statistics.
The complaint states that in 2010, the city's population was 86.9 percent white, 4.99 percent African-American, and 1.16 percent Asian. Hispanic or Latino of any race was 5.04 percent.
"We feel that these statistics, when put together, like pieces of a puzzle, show a picture that clearly indicates the failure of the city of Pittsfield to value and respect the laws that pertain to the fair hiring practices, and instead have created a multi-generational underclass of people of color based on years of failed municipal policies," the complaint states.
Will Singleton, president of the local NAACP chapter, has said the membership won't comment further until after the respective state and federal agencies have had time to weigh in.
Bianchi on Friday reiterated earlier comments that the city is taking positive steps, such as by re-establishing the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, and is moving forward in a proactive manner.
"Obviously, we take these issues seriously, and I think we will be able to address most of these issues and concerns," he said.
He said he would comment further after hearing from the agencies involved or from the NAACP chapter.
McCandless said Friday he hadn't yet seen the complaint and would withhold comment except to say: "I am very pleased to be representing the School Department on the Affirmative Action committee, and we are very committed to having a more diverse workplace in the city."
A spokeswoman for the civil rights division of the state Attorney General's office said the complaint has been received but that the agency wouldn't comment on an ongoing matter.
Officials at the other agencies could not be reached for comment.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien