DPW worker accuses Norwalk personnel director of discrimination in official complaint

Hurricane Sandy damage Norwalk CT 103112 155
Acting Norwalk DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre worked around the clock last year to coordinate Superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts but received no overtime for his efforts, according to an affirmative action complaint Torre filed with the city.

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


29 responses to “DPW worker accuses Norwalk personnel director of discrimination in official complaint”

  1. Oldtimer

    Mayor Rilling should get rid of Hasselkamp as soon as possible. It certainly sounds like Hasselkamp is getting involved in decisions that are well beyond the scope of his authority. Does he exercise veto power over promotions in any other department ?
    There is very clear state law about overtime pay and Hasselkamp knows it and ignores it. It is amazing to me that Alvord allows this much interference in how he runs DPW.

  2. M Allen

    @Oldtimer – or just let the facts come out and see how the decisions actually got made. Was it all one employee or were others involved in any of the decisions. Right now all there is is the complaint, which is one sided. Hasselkamp is everyone’s easy target.

  3. You may want to check your facts

    Probably because of all things he has done to every single department on the city.

  4. Break the Unions

    Just more union nonsense. The ones that need to go away are the unions. This needs to happen ASAP before they bankrupt Norwalk as they did so many other cities.

  5. Oldtimer

    M Allen
    If you read the entire complaint, there are responses from Hasselkamp incorporated in it.
    I can’t believe he has any authority to control who gets overtime, beyond employees in his office. If Alvord put him in a position as acting superintendent, then his pay should be determined by Alvord, in compliance with the contract, and Hasselkamp’s opinions should have nothing to do with it. Apparently, even the mayor knew he was doing the job, and got involved in trying to negotiate with Torre to accept a lower pay grade. If Hasselkamp was such an easy target, he would be long gone by now. He had a lot to do with Moccia losing.
    Break the Unions
    With the way union contracts and state labor law are ignored by the City when it suits certain people, what would be the point of breaking the unions ?

  6. M Allen

    OT – I’m just saying that it’s a case now. Let it play out. Or we can litigate it here. But let me ask: as of the 19th, Hasselkamp became a new Mayor’s Director of Personnel, right. I mean, it’s the 25th. The Corporation Counsel has been replaced. Police and Fire Commissioners. Why not any of the others that work at the pleasure of the Mayor? I mean, Hasselkamp is that bad, right? One would have thought he wouldn’t have made it to the 20th.

  7. Ray J

    9 days, 24 hours per day, with only rest breaks? No wonder he got slammed. He should be cited for abuse of his position.

  8. Union worker

    @ Break the Unions, You are obviously a disgruntled individual. Unions don’t break Cities, bad politics do! You must be a bad politician/laywer! Is your name Moccia or Haselkamp?!

    Mr. Torre deserves the position, I have known him for 35 years and have worked for him for 10, he is as genuine as they come! The entire D.P.W. hopes Haselkamp leaves soon.
    Just for the heck of it, Google “H James Haselkamp” you’ll be very surprised!

    D.P.W. worker!

  9. You may want to check your facts

    M Allen, according to the city charter, the mayor has until roughly 3 weeks after being sworn in to appoint a new personnel director, at least according to the city charter.

  10. Tim K

    Ray J… Not following your statement. The article states that Torre was denied overtime compensation, so how did he abuse his position? It seems like he did the moral, right thing by responding to the emergency without pay. What more should we expect from a city employee? (Or any employee, anywhere, for that matter?)

  11. LWitherspoon

    Mayor Rilling is in a tough position here. If he dismisses Mr. Haselkamp, particularly with no official finding of improper behavior, it will look like he’s paying back the Unions for their support. If he doesn’t dismiss Haselkamp, the Unions will be very unhappy.
    I would prefer to see an official finding of improper behavior, rather than mere allegations, against Mr. Haselkamp if he is to be dismissed. Otherwise how will we know that the Unions aren’t simply trying to remove a personnel director because they don’t like his efforts to drive a harder bargain with City employees?
    I attended a public meeting about outsourcing garbage hauling, and heard several DPW workers speaking about Mr. Haselkamp in very ugly and violent terms because they didn’t like the fact that he was trying to outsource garbage collection to save the City money.
    Does anybody know if Mr. Haselkamp would receive severance pay if he is dismissed by Mayor Rilling?

  12. You may want to check your facts

    The personnel director works at the pleasure of whatever mayor is in office, to be appointed by him. He would not get fired, he would be resigned. There is nothing odd about the mayor choosing who he wants for the position.

  13. Break the Unions

    Union Worker
    Your response is exactly what I would expect from a union “worker”. I took your advice and googled Mr Haselkamp and what I see is the typical nonsense complaints from the typical entitled union members.
    Here is a suggestion for you google unions bankrupting American and you will get thousands of articles.
    The only purpose municipal unions serve is to take more and more from the taxpayers.

  14. Oldtimer

    Break the Unions
    Anything you see that doesn’t support your belief about breaking the unions is, in your words, “typical nonsense”. If you were correct, wouldn’t Hasselkamp have easily held on to his job at any of the Cities where he was dismissed ? Either the charges against him were valid, or they were not. You can’t have it both ways. Personell directors in industry, if they are competent, stay in one position with one employer until a promotion comes along. They don’t flit from one job to another, unless their performance is so bad they can’t hold a job. I suspect Hasselkamp may be well qualified, but some issues in his personal life affect his performance. If I am correct, he either needs to get help or get out. Whatever happened to the sexual harassment charge brought against him and Tom Hamilton ? Didn’t Hamilton get him the job in the first place ? He was appointed by Moccia without an interview. Where, in the law or charter, does he get veto power in the DPW over who gets overtime, and how much, ? I would expect Alvord to tell him to mind his own business.

  15. M Allen

    @OT – I have no distinct opinion in Mr. Hasselkamp as I have not personally met the man or had even tangential experience with him other than what I have read. I’ll presume you have had that kind of experience. But I don’t agree that as a Personnel Director he would have held onto the job in any city just by doing a good job or being Mr. Friendly. The head of HR in any organization isn’t usually the most lived person by the rank and file employees. HR directors are part of management and are often tasked with being placed in an adversarial position. Would I expect that he were loved, liked or even tolerated by a unionized shop? Probably not. And no matter how good of a job he did, he works at the will of the mayor and mayors change. These are the last of the old patronage jobs. I’d be surprised to see many of them in city government where people last through more than one or two changes in government.

  16. LWitherspoon

    Might your antipathy towards Mr. Haselkamp have something to do with the fact that you’re a retired City worker and former municipal employee union official?
    I can understand your interest in having a personnel director who gives current and former city employees whatever they want. I hope you can understand this taxpayer’s interest in a personnel director who tries his best to get a little more for my money.
    I don’t know much about Mr. Haselkamp but it’s clear that he has upset Union people such as yourself. If he’s dismissed, it should be for an official finding of inappropriate behavior, rather than the crime of being too frugal with taxpayer money.

  17. M Allen

    Well LW, I’ll say this – he could just be released because he isn’t the man that the new Mayor wants in the job, for whatever reason. I’d like to think that all employees were protected, but as you know, appointees work at the pleasure of the Mayor. Or in non-union shops, at the pleasure of their employer. In the private sector, cause is not necessary unless working under a contract, explicit or implicit. Some executives just want their own team. And that’s OK. It doesn’t require a reason other than: it’s just what I want. In fact, to give a reason only opens the door to legal issues. Mr. Haselkamp isn’t in a protected class. So even replacing him with any other person would not likely be an issue. I’m not saying he should go because of the grievances that have been lodged against him. Just that his replacement by the Mayor doesn’t come down to right and wrong. It just comes down to what the Mayor wants for whatever reason he wants it.

  18. LWitherspoon

    @M Allen
    I think the more significant question isn’t whether or not Mr. Haselkamp can be dismissed – it’s whether or not he SHOULD be dismissed. If Mr. Haselkamp has been delivering value to taxpayers, I’d like to hear a better reason for his dismissal than “Mayor Rilling feels like it”. I’d also like to know if Mr. Haselkamp would be entitled to severance or other termination benefits, and how much those would cost taxpayers.
    If on the other hand Mr. Haselkamp has not been delivering value for taxpayers, and is guilty of sexual harassment to boot, then yes it’s probably time for him to go.
    Municipal Employee Unions are particularly skilled at negotiating favorable salary, benefits, and work rules for themselves. This is their right. As taxpayers, we need someone on the other side of the table who negotiates hard to get the most for our money. I don’t know if Mr. Haselkamp is that person, but I do believe that tough city personnel directors are rare.

  19. M Allen

    Well, with regard to his ability to act on behalf of taxpayers, that is only the result of the direction he gets from the top. So even if he were retained to stay on, he doesn’t (or shouldn’t) be operating on his own discretion when it comes to those issues.

  20. Don’t Panic

    I don’t know. Shoving tables during negotiations doesn’t seem to be the way to obtain value for the taxpayers. Disgruntled workers don’t tend to reach for the stars.

  21. M Allen

    A union leader calling the Director of Personnel a “liar” during a negotiation isn’t quite what we would call civil discourse either. But I guess we hold our “professional employees” to a different standard. How about they both get tossed? Oh wait, the union will protect one for committing everything short of murder, but the other should be tried and convicted in the court of partisan opinion.

  22. Casey Smith

    I’ve have seen Mr. Haselkamp in action and wasn’t impressed. I’ve also heard Mr. Alvord speak about Mr. Torre in glowing terms.
    While Mr. Haselkamp may have produced some positive aspects, like straightening out benefit payments and such, he’s also increasing the City’s liability by his actions.
    I wouldn’t be sad to hear that Mr. Haselkamp was moving on.

  23. Don’t Panic

    I’ve never heard Mr. Alvord speak glowingly about anything except those snazzy new traffic lights/cameras.

  24. LWitherspoon

    @M Allen
    I think it’s interesting that there is a small yet dedicated chorus of individuals calling for Mr. Haselkamp’s removal, but nobody has articulated exactly how removing him will benefit taxpayers. I don’t know the answer to whether or not he should go. I do feel rather strongly that there should be a compelling reason for dismissing someone with years of Norwalk personnel experience, and replacing him with someone who will not have knowledge of what has transpired in Norwalk personnel matters for the past several years.
    Raising your voice in a negotiation session and pushing a table 12 inches does not constitute a compelling reason. Sexual harassment would, except wasn’t that claim dismissed for lack of evidence? Racial discrimination would too, but that has only been alleged – not proven.
    There does seem to be an interesting double standard at work here – unproven allegations made against the personnel director are cited as reasonable grounds for his removal. Should that same standard apply to union employees?

  25. M Allen

    I’m as OK with the new Mayor determining the outcome as I would be with any other Mayor. Political appointees come and go. Continuity is maintained through the departmental employees, supervisors and assistant directors. Happens all the time. Much more noticeable at the federal level where cabinet secretaries and under-secretaries are replaced with every new administration. Is it better for the city? For the taxpayer? I don’t know. Guess that is the domain of the chief executive to determine who he will be better served by, and in so doing, the city.

  26. Tim K

    All this debate could conclude if there was a fresh start – seems to be needed here. If JH is a great professional, he should have no problem finding new employment and we can wish him luck!

    Yes, Unions = Bad/Corruption, but so does having poor employee relations. Someone above said it, if you have a workforce that feels exploited, you are not going to get the best value from them.

    He is not the only HR Director out there, so if you can get someone fiscally responsible and respected (aka – make it their ‘the Unions’ idea) everyone wins.

    So, instead of debating on NoN – let’s just move on from what we really don’t know.


  27. Oldtimer

    L Witherspoon
    You are making assumptions again. I already said Hasselkamp may be very capable, but he has personal issues that take some of the luster off his abilities. If you were listening, the unions were talking about a little respect, not the deed to City Hall. Good personell directors can be very effective without being rude and disrespectful. Hasselkamp knows that, and, on a good day, he can be very pleasant. Much like lawyers who advocate for a particular issue and then go for lunch or golf together, there is no need to get personally rude or start pushing tables around during good faith negotiations. He, and the lead negotiators for the unions, have jobs to do and nobody expects miracles. Some cities have had the same lead negotiator through many administrations, and some contracts come out better than others, but they are always gentlemen, or women.

  28. Oldtimer

    If you have ever watched a top rated litigator in court, invariably, they never even raise their voices and are so polite and pleasant it is hard to imagine the high stakes involved. Displays of bad temper are limited to amatuers who will never win a big case. Don’t make all your assumptions about effective advocates based on TV shows.

  29. LWitherspoon

    It is a factual statement that you are a retired city employee and municipal employee union official. No assumption there. It’s also a factual statement that you and other retirees have complained on these pages about the City “pushing” you from the retiree health plan into Medicare, which has higher premiums. There have also been complaints about higher co-pays for existing City plans. How do we know that your complaints about Mr. Haselkamp don’t stem from that?
    As I’ve said multiple times, I don’t know whether or not Mr. Haselkamp should be dismissed. I do feel confident that it’s not good policy to choose personnel directors based on who Union people want in that position. Mayor Rilling can appoint whomever he likes, but it’s also true that experienced employees have value. Experience shouldn’t be dismissed without a compelling reason. Indeed, many Unions argue that experience is the only measurable value that employees bring to the table, and that therefore pay should be based on years of time served and nothing else.
    The complaints by you and other Union people about Mr. Haselkamp may have merit, or not. As I said, I attended a public meeting about outsourcing garbage hauling, and heard several DPW workers speaking about Mr. Haselkamp in very ugly and violent terms because they didn’t like the fact that he was trying to outsource garbage collection to save the City money. If that’s the real source of the tension between Mr. Haselkamp and the Unions, is it in the interests of taxpayers that he be dismissed?

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