NORWALK, Conn. – A Department of Public Works supervisor has filed an affirmative action complaint against the city of Norwalk, alleging a pattern of discrimination against Hispanics by Personnel Director James Haselkamp, as first reported on NancyOnNorwalk on Nov. 5.
The complaint, filed by acting DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre, states Haselkamp has disciplined Hispanic workers more harshly than their white counterparts and has attempted to withhold overtime only from Hispanic supervisors, even though that money would have come from the federal government. Haselkamp changed the description of the superintendent of operations position sought by Torre, making it more difficult for him to get the job, the complaint states.
(A copy of the complaint is attached at the end of this article)
Mayor Richard Moccia offered the job to Torre at a lower pay scale, according to the complaint, which includes letters from three top Norwalk officials recommending Torre for the job.
The complaint suggests a pattern of Haselkamp’s disdain for the way the DPW is run by DPW Director Hal Alvord.
The complaint was requested by NancyOnNorwalk on Oct. 24 through a Freedom of Information request, but withheld until after the election. The last communication before the election was on Nov. 1, when Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Spahr said in an email that he was having difficulty getting Torre’s permission to release the documents. On Nov. 19, NancyOnNorwalk wrote to Spahr to ask what had happened to the request. Spahr wrote back, describing the complaint as a “pending claim” and asking if NancyOnNorwalk had contacted Torre for permission.
Spahr released the complaint Nov. 20 without comment, after being asked (again) if it was not a public document.
Torre, a road supervisor, and Ralph Kolb, wastewater systems manager, were temporarily assigned additional responsibilities to take over the vacant superintendent of operations position, the complaint states.
Torre worked nine days straight around the clock during the cleanup of Superstorm Sandy, taking brief rest periods as he served as lead coordinator between utility crews, DPW workers and power companies, according to the complaint. His work is lauded in letters written to recommend Torre for the job by Deputy Superintendent of Schools Tony Daddona, Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy and Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik. The letters are included in the complaint.
Torre’s supervisor, DPW operations manager Lisa Burns, requested out-of-class pay for Torre for the Sandy efforts, but Haselkamp denied the request in a reversal from previous practice, the complaint says. Torre says in the complaint that he did not file a grievance because he was focused on the clean-up effort.
The complaint alleges that Haselkamp singled out road supervisors, two of whom are described as Hispanic, as receiving excessive overtime in the Sandy cleanup. Haselkamp did not tell Mayor Richard Moccia that the overtime would be reimbursed by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and Haselkamp did not attempt to deny any other workers the overtime, the complaint alleges.
Haselkamp accused the two Hispanic road supervisors of misappropriating city resources because they had driven city vehicles home, the complaint alleges. The third road supervisor, who is white, was never accused of such misappropriation, although he had also taken a city vehicle home, the complaint states. The use of the city vehicle was in compliance with city policy as the supervisors were on call, the complaint states. Other employees take home city vehicle in compliance with city policy but have never been accused, the complaint states.
Haselkamp suspended a Hispanic road supervisor after both the supervisor and another worker made racial jokes with each other, the complaint says. The other worker was not suspended, it says.
The superintendent of operations position was advertised on June 21 at a Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association (NASA) grade of 8. Haselkamp fought that grade level, saying in an email that it should be placed at NASA grade 6.
Haselkamp changed the standard language of the job description, the complaint states. The “typical requirements” were changed from having experience “generally be acquired with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and with years of progressively responsible experience in public works, highway maintenance and construction, including three years of Supervisory experience” to “be acquired with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering,” the complaint states.
Specifically narrowing a job description to exclude a member of a protected class would be violation of affirmative action requirements, the complaint states.
Moccia asked Torre to take the job at Grade 6 on Sept. 14, the complaint states. This would be $20,000 less than the job is currently funded at, the complaint states.
Adding duties to a job doesn’t mean that the employee should get more money, Haselkamp is quoted as saying in the complaint. Tax collectors became responsible for the collection of sewer fees but did not get a raise, Haselkamp is quoted as saying.
That happened in 2001 and should not be used as an example, Torre writes in response.
The complaint portrays Haselkamp as someone who has it in for the DPW. Haselkamp accused DPW Director Hal Alvord of creating positions just to give workers more money. “This merit based reorganization creates bastardized positions that don’t exist anywhere else and corruption of the overall compensation plan,” Haselkamp is quoted as saying in an email.
Merit-based acknowledgment of good work would not be appropriate, Torre replies in the complaint.
Haselkamp criticized in an email the way the DPW is run, questioning the need to create a traffic supervisor position. That job was filled by Torre’s uncle, the complaint states. The Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Common Council approved the position.
The complaint was filed Oct. 15 with the Human Relations Department.
Haselkamp denied on Oct. 7 that he knew Torre was of Hispanic descent, according to the complaint. The complaint refutes that assertion by including an April 5, 2010 email meant to establish evidence in an unrelated complaint, in which Haselkamp described Torre as being of Puerto Rican descent.
Torre’s exploration of a possible affirmative action complaint resulted in a retaliatory email from Haselkamp, the complaint states. The email is not included in the complaint.
Daddona’s Oct. 7 letter, included in the complaint, recommends Torre for the job and describes him as “open minded, honest and a team player.” Daddona said he was Torre’s high school guidance counselor. Kulhawik recommends Torre in a Sept. 12 letter, saying he “has always worked in a very professional and cooperative manner,” even in trying circumstances. McCarthy recommends Torre for the job in an undated letter, saying Torre’s level of commitment benefited the city’s emergency response during Sandy and record setting snow storms.
For the complaint, click here: Chris Torre Complaint