An Ansonia public works employee whose supervisor allegedly used a racial slur to refer to him said Saturday (Oct. 19) the punishment doled out in the case was too lenient.
Now he says he is considering making a criminal complaint, and the local NAACP wants the federal Department of Justice and state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities to investigate.
Mayor James Della Volpe said Saturday the punishment — a 30-day unpaid suspension the supervisor is currently serving — was appropriate.
Employee Speaks Out
Timothy Holman, a public works employee for the past 10 years, was the victim of the “n-word,” slur, but said he couldn’t discuss the incident in detail because he has retained a lawyer.
“He used the ‘n word,’ along with some other words, some choice words which I won’t mention, describing me in a place, while he was working, on break, with a few of the employees that I work with,” Holman said Saturday at a press conference organized by the NAACP in front of the public works property on North Division Street.
Holman is black. He didn’t say when or where specifically the incident in question occurred.
He also declined to name the man he accused of using the racial slur about him, though sources have told the Valley Indy the supervisor in question was Judd Blaze, one of three foremen in the public works department.
The Valley Indy left a message seeking comment at the publicly listed telephone number for Blaze Saturday.
“His description of me goes directly against my character,” Holman said Saturday, adding that he chairs the city’s Inland-Wetlands Commission, has a seat on the Cultural Commission, is a member of TEAM’s board of directors, and is also president of the Positive Men’s organization.
In a prepared statement, Holman said his supervisor was given a five-week, paid furlough, during which time the city conducted a “fact-finding” about the incident.
Holman’s statement said he’s since been told he’ll report to another supervisor, “so that he and I don’t cross paths.”
The restriction doesn’t make sense, he said.
“Why? I did nothing wrong,” his statement said. “Why should I have to change to accommodate him? This is unacceptable.”
Mayor: ‘If He Does It Again He’ll Be Out The Door’
Mayor James Della Volpe said Saturday Holman would not have to report to another supervisor.
“He’s not going to be supervised by this individual,” Della Volpe said. “This individual is going to be assigned elsewhere. Tim Holman’s staying right where he is. He’s not being moved.”
The mayor said Holman asked him to look into the matter in late August, so he had the city’s labor attorney, Fran Teodosio, speak to the parties involved, who confirmed the supervisor used the racial slur.
“As soon as I heard what happened, I put him on administrative leave and we did our fact-finding,” Della Volpe said. “Once we had the facts I made my decision.”
The mayor also said the punishment he handed down suited the offense.
“I gave him a 30-day suspension, he’s got to undergo sensitivity training, and he’s got to make a personal apology in order to continue to be employed,” Della Volpe said. “I don’t tolerate these type of remarks, or any type of racial intolerance.”
He said that while Holman may not be happy about his decision, he said going without pay for six working weeks is significant discipline.
“As far as i know, it’s the first incident that I’m aware of in his 25-year career,” Della Volpe said about Holman’s now-former supervisor. “I’ve heard complaints he’s a tough boss, or that he’s hard to work with or hard to work for, but a lot of people are.”
Della Volpe said Blaze is out of second chances.
“If he does it again he’ll be out the door,” he said later, adding that he might have have taken harsher action in the case “if there was any indication or there was something in his record that led me to believe this was an ongoing issue.”
NAACP: Punishment Unacceptable
Greg Johnson, president of the Ansonia chapter of the NAACP, issued a statement Friday calling the punishment unacceptable.
“A 30-day suspension and sensitivity training for a 25-year veteran will hardly touch the surface of the harassment and negativity that swirls around Mr. Tim Holman,” Johnson said at the press conference Saturday.
Holman’s statement also said he’s been “feeling the heat” since making his complaint, in the form of being passed over for overtime assignments.
“I feel the mayor has set the tone that allows this intimidation to fester by allowing this foreman to continue to be employed,” Holman said in his statement. “A person who has proven he lacks any sense of professionalism and is unfit for the job. It implies consent.”
Holman is a candidate on Della Volpe’s election slate for town sheriff, a position he has long held.
Johnson said the incident has created a “negative racial hostile environment that Mr. Holman is now working in.”
Johnson on Saturday called on the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, as well as the federal Department of Justice, to investigate what he called is a “clear violation of civil rights.”
Though Holman’s statement said his supervisor is unfit for the job, and Johnson issued a statement Friday calling for his dismissal, Johnson stopped short of making the same demand Saturday.
“I’m calling for justice. Whatever that justice entails, that’s what we’ll be fighting for,” he said.
“There’s no way in the world someone should be handed the punishment that he was handed down,” Johnson said later, calling it a “slap on the wrist.”
“I think a 30-day suspension is definitely not adequate or suitable for this type of offense,” Holman said.
‘There’s No Sticks And Stones’
Johnson said racial slurs go beyond simple name-calling.
“When you’re talking about a 24, going on 25-year veteran (employee) who’s a foreman with people that are working under him, there’s no sticks and stones,” Johnson said. “We have a duty to uphold and a standard to uphold and calling someone the ‘n word’ is not that standard.”
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Asked if he considered making a criminal complaint about the incident, Holman said: “That’s a possibility.”
Holman’s statement said he has been dealing with racism since childhood, but deserves to work in an environment free of it.
“Growing up in South Carolina I heard the ‘n word’ frequently. I grew up being treated like a second-class citizen but even though I’ve lived the pain of racism and have come face to face with hate, I still believe that most decent people want to treat people equally regardless of the color of their skin. I believe we should all be treated as God’s children, as equals,” Holman’s statement said.
“Everyone deserve the right to go to work in a non-hostile environment,” Holman’s statement said later. “By disrespecting me as a person, he has created an environment of stress and intimidation. He slandered my character. He referred to me using a racial slur. If he feels that comfortable saying these things in front of workers, I can only imagine what he says in private, but what worries me most is how that has affected his decisions in supervising me and other city employees.”