By Mary Shelton
Anthony Joiner, along with 16 other African-Americans, filed a racial discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the city of Riverside in 1997, and he remains one of eight litigants awaiting their day in U.S. District Court.
But, Joiner no longer works for the city, and believes that it was his refusal to accept racism in the workplace that sealed his fate as an employee.
In 1997, the city of Riverside laid off over 200 employees, many of them African-American, including Joiner. Before he was laid off, Joiner had already faced many problems in the workplace including an environment hostile to people of color.
When Joiner began working for the city as a part-time employee in 1989, it seemed like a good job. He worked in the Street and Maintenance department and was assured that after working five years maximum in his part-time position, he would be upgraded to full-time.
However, when he applied for a full-time position in the painting department in 1994, he discovered differently.
Although he was the most qualified person, scored highest on the tests and beat out 27 other applicants, he was not given the job even though he was already performing many of the duties of that position. Joiner said the city denied him the position because, the doctor said health problems had been discovered during his employment physical, which would worsen if he took the job. Other employees in his department were amazed by the strenuous medical tests given to Joiner, which were more extensive than their own physicals. Still Joiner waited for word about his work status from the city for over 60 days, and received none.
When another employee informed him that White officials at City Hall and Human Resources had planned to fill the positions with their relatives, he decided to go to his own physician, Joiner said. He underwent the same rigorous physical and his own doctor said he was in perfect health. So, Joiner became suspicious.
"That's when I first started seeing things as they were down there," he said.
In April 1994, he was finally hired as a full-time maintenance painter, one of two African-Americans in that department.
"And that's when the trouble started," Joiner said.
Soon after, he and Rommel Dunbar, the other African-American, encountered the extremely hostile environment of the city's Corporate Yard. What began as hostile looks soon turned into racist actions.
Dog feces were smeared inside their work truck, which puzzled them at first because they were the only people supposed to have keys. The two men also found "n*****" written in the dust on their truck's windows, and also scratched inside the bathrooms.
Pinups of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Jackson were used as dartboards by other employees. Black dolls were crushed and placed in Joiner's paint shaker.
Complaints to incidents like these went unheeded by the department, as the supervisors told the two men, not to worry about it, which often left the two men to clean up after the perpetrators.
"We had to be the ones to sand it off and paint over it," Joiner said, of the racist graffiti, "That was really humiliating."
In contrast, when several White employees had been harassed in other departments and had filed complaints, they had received settlements from the city in less than a year.
Even as the harassment continued, Joiner said, another serious problem arose on the horizon when it was clear that the city was going to begin laying off many of its employees. At first, supervisors assured Joiner that his job was safe, which made sense to him, because the city owned over 137 buildings, and had only Joiner and Dunbar to paint them, when needed.
But when he continued to fight discrimination on the job, he said, the situation changed.
Joiner and Dunbar filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, which he said, upset the city. A supervisor told him that if he aligned himself with Dunbar, he would go down with him. One morning, Joiner found a picture of a Black man with a bone through his nose stuck in the door of his work truck. When he reported it, a supervisor did nothing and instead asked him if Dunbar had done it. Joiner said that when he and Dunbar confronted management about the continued harassment, the reassurances that their jobs were secure, stopped.
"Now, all a sudden, our jobs are on the block for possible layoffs," Joiner said.
Their supervisor finally told them that the city planned to eliminate its paint department and terminate the positions held by Joiner and Dunbar.
According to 1997 EEO statistics, two African-American employees were laid off from Street and Maintenance that year.
After being laid off, Joiner said, he and other employees were told by the city that attempts would be made to place them in other positions. Soon, Joiner learned that White employees were more likely to be placed than African-Americans by the city. White painters in other departments were notified by the city when positions reopened so they could reapply, but Joiner and other African-American employees were not, he said.
So, he applied for similar positions in other cities including Ontario and Moreno Valley. Ontario city officials told him he had a "good chance" for a position, but after he used the city of Riverside as a reference, Joiner said that he did not get a phone call. When he tried to find out why, he was told that his application had been disqualified because he did not answer a question about typing skills even though he was applying for a maintenance position.
When he applied back at the city of Riverside to work as a street painter, he did not receive an interview. Joiner said he did discover that White employees were receiving work orders to paint buildings even though he and Dunbar had been told that the painting department was eliminated.
Laura Payne, spokesperson for the city, disagreed.
"We do not have an in-house paint department," she said, "We contract all our work out."
Since the layoffs, African-Americans have continued to work in Street and Maintenance, mostly in part-time positions that do not offer benefits and little opportunity for advancement.
According to the 2001 EEO report, African-Americans are more likely to hold part-time positions in Street and Maintenance, than full-time, a trend similar to that of other city departments.
African-Americans comprise 36 percent of the part-time workforce in that department, yet only 9 percent of the full-time positions. In contrast, White employees make up only 30 percent of the part-time work force, but 62 percent of the full-time work force.
Joiner supports himself doing painting and wallpapering jobs, but had planned to buy a house before he was laid off by the city.
Even after all his terrible experiences, he liked working for the city because the benefits and retirement packages were good for his position.
"I'd probably still be working there if I had kept my mouth shut," Joiner said, "But, you got to stand up and fight to make it better for the next generation."
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