Berkeley city manager’s office investigates employees’ claims of racial discrimination

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The Berkeley city manager’s office is investigating a complaint alleging several city workers have experienced discrimination in employment and promotion processes.

In a Sept. 6 memo to Berkeley City Council, the city manager announced Berkeley is planning to contract with an outside public policy research firm, Mason Tillman Associates Ltd., to interview employees and help the city gain a better understanding of the employees’ claims.

“This process has dragged on for quite some time,” said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP. “We hate to be in this situation. We thought that issues like this were settled already before, and we are disappointed that we are involved in this again.”

Discussion with the city about the issue began in December. After hearing complaints from several city employees, the NAACP sent a letter to Mayor Tom Bates urging the city to begin an external investigation of its hiring and promotion practices.

Employee testimony ranged from complaints that the city has been limiting opportunities for African Americans to advance in the workplace to claims that employers have been manipulating hiring processes, giving preference to friends and other individuals, Id-Deen said.

In one complaint, an employee had applied for a promotion, but once she became the final candidate for the position, the city reopened it and ultimately hired someone else, Id-Deen added.

At a town hall meeting on July 13, the Berkeley branch of the NAACP and several other organizations convened with Berkeley residents, city workers, commissioners and City Council members to discuss inequities in employment, education and criminal justice, among other issues, for African Americans and low-income communities in Berkeley.

After the meeting, the NAACP drafted a document outlining the problems observed in Berkeley as well as several recommendations it would like to see implemented by the city, such as creating a City Council oversight body to monitor discriminatory hiring practices.

According to the memo released by the city manager, the city has been working on a contract with Mason Tillman Associates since March but had difficulty reaching an agreement due to the firm’s policy of keeping employee names confidential. However, a contract has been written, and the city manager expects it to be signed soon, the memo states.

The city manager could not be reached for comment.

“We need to take many of the NAACP’s suggestions seriously,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “I don’t think this one contract alone is enough of a response … it’s not just a couple of people complaining. We need to research the economic and racial injustice we have today and take action to respond to it.”

Alison Fu covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.