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Town resident files bias complaint against union local

WBUR reports that the state commission takes years to resolve discrimination cases: One took 17; another 15. Read it here >>

Noose at work.Noose allegedly left at work. / Patch photo

 UPDATED May 31: An Arlington man has accused the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local 292 of discrimination and harassment in a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the independent state agency that enforces state antidiscrimination laws, YourArlington partner Patch reports.

Richard S. Summers, 56. an African American who has been a customer representative at NAGE since May 2020, said he began experiencing discrimination and harassment in the workplace in August 2021 and has continued to experience retaliation ever since.

According to the complaint, Summers' supervisor at the time made several racially charged comments directed toward him and later retaliated against Summers for confronting him by stripping him of privileges, moving his office and changing his duties. In addition, an anonymous lynching noose was left where Summers works several months after the comments were made.

Patch has reached out to NAGE for comment on Summers' complaints and plans to update the story when it hears back.

NAGE is a labor union that represents federal, state, county and municipal employees across the United States. In Massachusetts, NAGE represents 22,000 workers in more than 60 state agencies.

How it started

Summers said his story began when he attended a ratification meeting chaired by NAGE Vice President John Mann last Aug. 28.

During the meeting, Summers introduced himself to several union members whom he had not met yet. As he did so, Mann allegedly said to the group, "After his kind shakes your hand, make sure to check for your jewelry."

After Summers decided not to respond, he said Mann continued with two other racially charged comments in an exaggerated Southern drawl: "How did you get your head so shiny?" and "If I bleached you, you would look like Mr. Clean!"

Several days after the comments were made, Summers privately approached Mann and told him they "made him uncomfortable because they contained racial overtones and microaggressions," according to the complaint.

Summers said Mann immediately became defensive and insisted that his comments did not have racial overtones. He refused further conversation and said, "This is over, I'm done, I'm done" before exiting his office.

A request for transfer

After unsuccessfully attempting to communicate with Mann, Summers sought the advice of Chief of Staff Bernie Flynn in September, says the complaint. Flynn agreed that Mann's comments were "racist" and told Summers they needed to separate the two men.

Flynn suggested Summers report to Steve Tolman in the "MAC" division instead. However, because that move would change Summers' responsibilities and no longer put him out on the road meeting with union members, Summers requested as an alternative that he be transferred to Faren Woolery, an African-American woman and president of NAGE Local 368 at MassDOT.

Summers' request was denied, according to the complaint, and Flynn allegedly told Summers that "if he wanted to keep his job, he had to stay with Mr. Mann."

Flynn arranged a meeting with Summers and Mann on Sept. 14. At the meeting, Flynn allegedly called out Mann for his racial comments, and Mann apologized for his comments, insisting that he is not a racist.

Retaliation

The complaint says that Summers began to experience retaliation shortly after his meeting with Flynn and Mann. In addition to shifting his report structure, the union removed Summers from his normal travel and organizational schedules and stripped him of his $400 monthly car allowance.

On Oct. 12, Summers and the former NAGE Local 292 Vice President Patrick Beaulieu traveled to the Lawrence Registry of Motor Vehicles to recruit new union members. They discussed the perks of joining the union with two employees who said they needed more time to decide. Summers and Beaulieu left business cards and indicated they would follow up.

A MassDOT trainer later told Summers that the two RMV employees they met with had felt "pressured" to immediately join the union and that she would be reporting it to MassDOT management.

The following day, NAGE moved Summers' desk to a second-floor cubicle that had not been occupied for two years. According to the complaint, the move placed Summers in the "proverbial fishbowl" where he was in view of managers and peers including Mann. Summers' hours were also changed without warning, and his duties became more clerical.

Later that month, Mann presented Summers with parts of an email from NAGE Attorney Kevin Preston. NAGE had apparently investigated Summers' and Beaulieu's visit to the Lawrence RMV, according to the complaint. However, Summers was never questioned or told of any investigation.

Mann proceeded to tell Summers that he was now legally barred from entering any RMV as a union member and that his job was in jeopardy since he could no longer enter a registry and fulfill his job responsibilities.

However, Summers said he later found out that there was no investigation -- and that union representatives may not be barred from an RMV.

"Mr. Mann was clearly attempting to push Mr. Summers from the workplace and, failing that, setting up Mr. Summers for termination in retaliation for Mr. Summers reporting Mr. Mann's offensive conduct in August and September of 2021," says the complaint.

Following the RMV incident, Summers sent an email to Bernie Flynn to request an immediate transfer from reporting to Mann.

Lnching noose appears

When Summers arrived at work on the morning of Nov. 1, he went to his desk, pulled out his chair and found a yellow noose made of rope on his chair, according to the complaint.

Summers brought the noose to colleagues, none of whom knew what happened, and then walked outside to contact the Quincy Police Department. Quincy police responded and Summers waited outside while they investigated.

The officers who entered the building reported that someone had removed the noose, and it only reappeared after further inquiry by police. Summers was unable to return to the workplace and was placed on paid leave by NAGE for the entirety of the investigation.

After Summers engaged counsel early this year, NAGE directed him to return to work under the management of Woolery at MassDOT -- a suggestion Summers first made months before that was rejected.

Summers declined the union's directive and remained on paid leave until last Feb. 15, when NAGE suspended him without pay while continuing his health coverage through May 31.

What now?

According to Summers, NAGE suspended his health benefits at the end of April, a month earlier than expected.

Also a licensed social worker, Summers has removed himself from NAGE and has started the organization Because She's Worth It, which supports women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

NAGE filed a response to Summers' complaint, and Summers said he is working on a second response to the union. 


Nov. 20, 2020: Superintendent finalist brings strong hopes amid racial controversy

 


This news summary was published Thursday, May 19, 2022. It was written by Annie Sandoli, writer for Patch, a YourArlington partner. It was updated May 31, to add WBUR report.

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