Federal Civil Rights Case on Behalf of Minority Business Owners Settled Against Onondaga County, NY and the former Comptroller for Mandates Intended to Advance Minorities Countywide

MINORITY BUSINESS OWNERS SETTLE FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS ACTION AGAINST ROBERT E. ANTONACCI, II
AND THE COUNTY OF ONONDAGA
FOR
MANDATES INTENDED TO ADVANCE MINORITIES COUNTYWIDE

New York, NY – February 6, 2019 – Federal civil rights case against the County of Onondaga (the “County”) and Robert E. Antonacci, II (“Antonacci”) settles for mandates intended to advance minority opportunities countywide. The settlement requires the County of Onondaga to institute a minority hiring policy; conduct and publish a comprehensive assessment of minority employment throughout the County; develop a County diversity and inclusion internship; and require diversity, harassment prevention, and sensitivity training for every County employee. The settlement also requires that Antonacci, the former Onondaga County Comptroller, participate in three Minority Business Enterprise (“MBE”) forums as a panelist.  Plaintiffs Dino Dixie, Cheyenne Talbert, and Eli Smith (“Plaintiffs”) are pleased to have reached a settlement with many significant non-expiring mandates, and they look forward to its implementation and the positive impact it will have on the minority community in the County of Onondaga.

“The best remedy for discrimination and racism is to increase diversity and inclusion in an effort to promote tolerance, compassion, and mutual respect,” stated Plaintiff Eli Smith, “We  believe that the mandates we secured are a significant step forward towards these objectives.”

Settlement: Plaintiffs’ settlement obtained performance mandates from Antonacci and the County of Onondaga.  A summary is provided below; specific details are listed in attached Press Release Addendum.

Antonacci Mandate

By November 1, 2019, Antonacci, who is now a New York State Senator,  must serve as a panelist at three MBE forum’s mutually agreed upon by the Plaintiffs and Antonacci, sponsored by the State of New York, the County of Onondaga, and/or the City of Syracuse.

County Mandate

  1.         Minority Hiring Assessment: By May 15, 2019, the County will conduct an assessment, through the County Personnel Department, to analyze the County’s current minority hiring (“Minority Hiring Assessment”), post the data on the County’s website, and update it every six months until May 15, 2021. The assessment will examine how many minorities are employed at each grade/level in every agency/department throughout the County.
  1.         Diverse & Inclusive Personnel Hiring Policy: The County will institute a definitive minority hiring policy (“Diverse & Inclusive Personnel Policy”) to ensure that minority communities are represented in both management and executive ranks and to the extent possible,  among civil service employees in each agency/department throughout the County. This mandate does not expire.
  1.         Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship: The County will sponsor an annual unpaid eight-week full-time summer internship for twenty-four diverse and/or socio-economically challenged high school and/or college students who live in Onondaga County. Two interns will be placed in each of the twelve selected County agencies/departments. Some of the applicants will be submitted by the Plaintiffs. This mandate does not expire.
  1.         Diversity, Harassment Prevention, & Sensitivity Training: By February 1, 2020, the County will ensure that every employee of each agency/department throughout the County participates in live and/or interactive Diversity, Harassment Prevention, & Sensitivity Training and that new employees must do so within the first three months of their start date.  This mandate does not expire.

 Background: On October 6, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a federal civil rights complaint against the County of Onondaga and County Comptroller Antonacci.  Plaintiffs’ alleged disparate treatment based upon their status as minority business owners. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York and was assigned to the Honorable Frederick J. Scullin, Jr.  Following the filing of the Complaint, Motions to Dismiss were filed by the County and Antonacci.  On May 24, 2017, Judge Scullin denied the Motions to Dismiss with one exception, which resulted in the removal of the position of County Comptroller as a named Defendant, but kept in Antonacci personally as a named Defendant “because plaintiffs have plausibly pled viable equal protection claims against him ….”  Thereafter, the settlement was mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks and a Notice of Discontinuance was filed with the Court on February 1, 2019.  See Complaint here and the Court’s Ruling on the Motion to Dismiss here.

Plaintiffs’ Counsel: The Plaintiffs are represented by Wolf Haldenstein partners Regina Calcaterra and Malcolm T. Brown and of-counsel Kate McGuire.
___________________

Press Release Addendum

Minority Business Enterprise Forum:  By November 1, 2019, Robert E. Antonacci, II will serve as a panelist at three MBE Forum’s as mutually agreed upon by Plaintiffs and Antonacci. The forums will be targeted to those MBEs that endeavor to do business with government entities. The MBE Forums will be selected from events sponsored by the State of New York, the County of Onondaga, or the City of Syracuse.

Minority Hiring Assessment: By May 15, 2019, the County of Onondaga will conduct a Minority Hiring Assessment, through the County Personnel Department, to study the County’s current minority hiring. The Minority Hiring Assessment will include a detailed analysis by grade or level of minority appointees and civil servants in comparison to non-minority appointees and civil servants by department/agency/office. The County will make the Minority Hiring Assessment available on the County’s website and will continue to make such assessment available and updated every six months on the County’s website up until May 15, 2021.

Diverse & Inclusive Personnel Policy: As a result of the Minority Hiring Assessment, the County will institute a definitive Diverse & Inclusive Personnel Policy, which will be administered by the Department of Personnel.  The purpose of the Diverse & Inclusive Personnel Policy is to ensure that minority communities are represented in both management and executive ranks, and to the extent it can among civil service employees. Minorities will have access to opportunities within the County’s departments, including but not limited to the County’s departments of Personnel, Law, Executive, Social Services, Purchasing, Parks and Recreation, Water Environment Protection, Transportation, Health, Facilities, Finance, and Audit and Control.  The County will 1) advertise civil service exams online and in print with media outlets whose coverage in and around the Onondaga County region is intended for readers of diverse cultures and race; 2) seek to increase diversity in relation to executive and management appointees when positions are available due to attrition or resignation; and 3) assign staff in the County’s Personnel department to serve as liaisons a) between communities of diverse culture and race and the County to facilitate future employment opportunities, b) that will be to the extent permitted by civil service law, the point of contact on civil service exams processes and procedures, and c) that will hold forums in diverse communities twice annually encouraging applications for civil service exams, management and executive appointments, and the Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship.

Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship: The County will sponsor an annual unpaid eight-week full-time summer internship for diverse high school and/or college students who reside within Onondaga County (“Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship”). Each of the County’s departments of Personnel, Law, Executive, Social Services, Purchasing, Parks and Recreation, Water Environment Protection, Transportation, Health, Facilities, Finance, and Audit and Control will sponsor two diverse students each. The intent of the internship is to expose diverse Onondaga County youth and young adults to matters of public policy, governmental operations, and specific skills that can benefit their growth. Considerations will be made for each diverse student’s interests and goals; i.e., students who are interested in environmental issues should be considered for placement in Department of Water Environment Protection; and those interested in accounting should be considered for placement in Department of Audit and Control or the Department of Finance. In selecting diverse students for the Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship, the County will consider a student’s race and culture in addition to a student’s socio-economic status.  Plaintiffs may submit applicants for the Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship and the County will consider such applicants. The County will publicly post the details related to the Onondaga County Diversity & Inclusion Internship application on the County’s websites and on media outlet websites whose coverage is intended for diverse readers in the Onondaga County region.

Diversity, Harassment Prevention, & Sensitivity Training: The County will ensure that every employee of the County participate in live and/or interactive Diversity, Harassment Prevention, & Sensitivity Training by February 1, 2020 and that new employees with start dates after the effective date of the settlement will participate in live and/or interactive Diversity, Harassment Prevention, & Sensitivity Training within the first three months of their start date. Live and/or interactive training should minimally meet one of the following training models: (a) if the training is web-based, it will have questions at the end of a section and the employee must select the right answer; (b) if the training is web-based, the employees will have an option to submit questions online and will receive an answer immediately or in a timely manner; (c) if the training is an in-person or live training, the presenter will ask the employees questions or give them time throughout the presentation to ask questions. All web-based or in-person trainings must provide a feedback survey for employees to turn in after they have completed the training. An individual watching a training video or reading a document only, with no feedback mechanism or interaction, would not be considered interactive.

February 6, 2019 Press Release

Minority business owners sue Comptroller Antonacci for racial discrimination, Syracuse Post Standard

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against Onondaga County Comptroller Antonacci, Time Warner Cable News

Minority Firm’s Federal Civil Rights Discrimination Lawsuit May Proceed