Already beset with serious financial problems, declining enrollment, and unsettled labor contracts, Erie Community College has now been hit with a second federal lawsuit by an employee alleging a hostile work environment, discrimination based on sex, retaliatory action by supervisors, and violations of the Equal Pay Act.
The latest action against the college was filed July 9 by Constance Neubecker, a 30-year employee in the maintenance department who was diagnosed in 2008 with Major Depressive Disorder, according to her court papers.
“The conditions at the college [in building and grounds] are horrible,” she said in an exclusive interview last week when she broke into sobs in describing what she calls the hostile work environment she has been forced to endure at ECC over the years. She currently works as a truck driver where under an agreement she is getting the same pay as the head gardener, a position she had sought but had been denied in favor of a less qualified male.
Ms. Neubecker alleges in her court papers that she was discriminated against because of her sex when applying for various jobs that were given to less experienced and less educated male employees, as in the case of the head gardener position.
The suit alleges that her complaints to her supervisors about unlawful discrimination based on sex with respect to her pay, promotions, and job assignments fell on deaf ears and were not properly investigated.
The court papers allege that after raising complaints of discrimination to the director of Equity and Diversity, “the Defendant (ECC) continued and intensified the hostile work environment of the Plaintiff,” as fellow employees refused to answer simple questions about the locations of repair materials and being assigned tasks requiring equipment already in use.
In some cases, Neubecker alleges angry outbursts from her supervisor caused her to become sick and have to leave work. The examples are numerous, and she claims that as a result of her treatment by ECC supervisors she “experienced loss of income, loss of benefits, anxiety, shame, embarrassment, emotional pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.”
Neubecker’s lawsuit is seeking a judgment that ECC violated her rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and her rights under New York
State’s Human Rights Law. The suit seeks all damages under federal and state law “including but not limited to failure to promote, lost overtime, lost pay raises, lost bonuses, and lost long term pay incentives.”
Neubecker is also seeking damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life as well as humiliation and other injuries in an amount to be determined at trial. Also included in the demand is that ECC pay all medical damages suffered by Neubecker as a result of her hostile work environment.
We reported last March that Eileen Flaherty, the 62-year-old former Human Resources commissioner at ECC, had slapped a human rights lawsuit against the college singling out in-house counsel Kristin Klein-Wheaton for age discrimination and retaliation.
In her suit filed March 13, Flaherty’s court papers allege that almost immediately after Klein-Wheaton was hired in February of 2011, “she allegedly began to discriminate and retaliate against the Plaintiff (Flaherty) as a result of the Plaintiff’s age, disability, and need for leave.” Flaherty was fired without notice while on medical leave in April of last year.
As in the case of the Flaherty lawsuit, ECC declined to respond to the allegations made by Neubecker in her court papers filed by her attorney, Lindy Korn.
Since we began reporting on problems at ECC, we have received many complaints similar to the ones raised by Flaherty and Neubecker from other workers, but fearing reprisal they have decided to withhold public comment. In general, they describe conditions at the college as deteriorating and blame leadership for not addressing the concerns that have contributed to the low morale at ECC.