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July 29 - Aug 06, 2014

Former Council Secretary Receives
'Probable Cause' Determination in Age
Discrimination 'Firing'

By Anna M. Howard

July 29, 2014

Kevin Ormsby: too old?

Kevin J. Ormsby, former secretary to the Niagara Falls City Council who was fired from his job at the close of 2013, was notified last week by the New York State Division of Human Rights that he has “Probable Cause” to pursue a settlement from the City of Niagara Falls and Council members Charles Walker, Kristen Grandinetti and Andrew Touma with regard to his age-discrimination complaint.

Walker, Grandinetti and Touma removed Ormsby as secretary and replaced him with political operative and City Democratic Committee member Ryan Undercoffer, age 24. Undercoffer has been on the job since his appointment at the first council meeting of 2014.

Ormsby, 61, filed an age-discrimination complaint through the Division of Human Rights in February. The finding of Probable Cause was issued as the last step in an investigation by the Buffalo office of the New York State Division of Human Rights.

The state letter of “Determination After Investigation” reads, in part, “After investigation, the Division has determined that it has jurisdiction in this matter and that probable cause exists to believe that the Respondents have engaged in or are engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of.”

“Certainly this is good news,” said Ormsby. “But it’s not over. I trust that the City and the Council majority will value the state’s determination and respect the state’s finding by moving forward in good faith.”

The “Basis for Determination” portion of the determination letter closed with, “The record supports complainant’s allegations that he was terminated based on his age. The evidence indicates complainant was terminated and replaced by a younger person. Witnesses verify that the decision makers made comments stating the reason for complainant being replaced was based on age.”

At the close of the January council meeting in which Undercoffer was appointed, both Walker and Grandinetti highlighted for the media Undercoffer’s age with Walker saying Undercoffer was hired because he is, “young, qualified and expressed interest in the position.” Grandinetti told the press that the Council wanted to bring in a “young fresh face.”

Undercoffer was handed the council secretary position with no public posting of the job, no interview process, his resume never made public, and with no other candidates interviewed for the job, everything Ormsby had to undergo prior to his taking the council secretary job one year earlier.

Former Council Chairman Sam Fruscione told the Reporter, "When I served as Chairman, I was told by the city's EEOC director, Ruby Pulliam that, before the City Council could hire a new secretary, I must post the position with the unions and on the city's website. I was told that interviews must be held for candidates. Furthermore, Mr. (Charles) Walker wanted me to implement a rating system for each candidate and whichever candidate received the highest rating would receive the position. I did, and as a result, Mr. Ormsby was hired. That's just the opposite of what Mr. Walker did when he hired 'his' secretary. Strangely, Ruby Pulliam sat back and allowed it to happen."

Ormsby, no favorite of the mayor's despite his spending almost five years as the city's media and public information specialist, whose task was to write most of the mayor's press releases, accepted the council secretary position at the close of 2012 after Mayor Dyster wrote him out of the city budget. Dyster de-funded his position.

The next step in the complaint process will be a public hearing presided over by an Administrative Law Judge. There could be, prior to the public hearing, a Pre-Hearing Settlement Conference if the City and City Council express interest in settling the matter.
In June 2010, Mayor Dyster, following the advice of the Attorney General, opened the city's first ever Equal Employment Opportunity Office, hiring Pulliam as director, to great media fanfare.

At the time, Dyster told the media the “clock is ticking” nearing the end of city discriminatory practices, now that Pulliam is on the job. He told the Niagara Gazette that she will be capable of "leading the city in the direction it needs to go in terms of workplace diversity and equality."
“I’m hoping that today is the beginning of a new era here,” Dyster said then.

Three years later, Fruscione said, Undercoffer "was hired without adhering to any of the rules that were implemented by the Attorney General's office… Mayor Dyster, under the advice of the Attorney General, hired Mrs. Ruby Pulliam to make sure that minorities and the disadvantaged were given equal opportunity to jobs in the city of Niagara Falls. This has been probably the biggest sham and failure at city hall. Ryan Undercoffer, the new council secretary, was hired without following any of the procedures established by the Attorney General. Mr. Walker, along with Ruby Pulliam, both turned a blind eye to procedure and the Attorney General's recommendations and hired the hack/boy (Undercoffer) because he was youthful, and the Democratic committee told them to do so. So much for equal opportunity."

This year, after Ormsby's firing, he tried to get the city's EEOC interested in hearing his complaint. He was ignored, forcing him to go to the state.

“The NY State Division of Human Rights is a well-respected and active division of government," Ormsby said. "Without this division of government a person would have nowhere to turn after falling victim to discrimination, at least in Niagara Falls.”







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