The Related Companies: Racism and Discrimination

The Related Companies and Equinox, a gym chain owned by Related Companies, have histories of alleged racist practices and discriminatory treatment of formerly incarcerated individuals from marginalized communities, allegations which have been criticized by the NAACP New York State Conference and by leaders from the reentry community.  Currently pending against the companies are Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints filed by former employees of Trade Off Construction, a subcontractor of Related Companies, and a lawsuit filed by a potential Equinox employee on behalf of himself and other applicants with criminal justice histories.

Related Targets Successful Re-Entry Worker

In 2018, the Related Companies hired a private investigator to trail Eric Smokes, a formerly incarcerated African American concrete laborer, as part of its effort to expose unions for “thuggish tactics” and disparage them for paying reentry populations a dignified wage. In a June 2018 New York Post article based on Related’s lawsuit and an internal Hudson Yards report, Mr. Smokes was publically shamed in racist and discriminatory ways, all while Related made its case against decent wages for New York City’s working-class.  Mr. Smokes’ criminal record was sensationalized and disclosed in the article, and he was portrayed using an orange-clad mug shot and referred to as a “convicted killer”. In addition, the article deployed racially-charged “coffee boy” rhetoric in order to belittle the role of Mr. Smokes—a fifty-year-old father and grandfather—on the jobsite.

In a public letter, the New York State chapter of the NAACP, The Fortune Society, and Pathways To Apprenticeship, community leaders on re-entry issues, demanded that Related Companies apologize to Mr. Smokes.  The groups described Related’s disparaging treatment of Mr. Smokes as having “historical connotations that are rooted in racism and slavery,” and argued that Related had  “completely [diminished] his job, while showing a lack of understanding and empathy of the working conditions on a high-rise construction site.”

Related 55 Hudson Yards Subcontractor Accused of Racial Discrimination

African American employees of Trade Off, LLC and Trade Off Plus, LLC have filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the NY State Division of Human Rights alleging systematic racial discrimination. Their charges were filed on February 27, 2018. The complaints allege that African Americans laborers were disproportionately segregated into Trade Off, while their other coworkers were with greater frequency assigned to work for Trade Off Plus which provides higher wages and some benefits. In his complaint with the EEOC, one African American employee likened his experience to “a system reminiscent of apartheid.” Employees at Trade Off received a starting hourly wage of $15/hour, while Trade Off Plus employees received a starting hourly wage of $20/hour, as well as some fringe benefits such as a 401k contribution. Related frequently makes use on its jobs of labor supplied by Trade-Off Plus, the entity from which African American workers have allegedly been excluded.

Equinox, a gym chain owned by Related, has been accused of discriminating based on the criminal backgrounds of potential employees.  In late 2017, Hassan Barrow, a personal trainer who applied for a job at Equinox, filed a class action lawsuit against Equniox Holding, Inc. for discrimination based on criminal background.  

While applying for a position as a Personal Trainer at Equinox in Armonk, NY in September of 2017, Mr. Barrow went through a series of interviews and physical demonstrations.  At the end of the process, one of his interviewers told Mr. Barrow that the management team loved his “personality, energy, and knowledge” and offered him the position.  Mr. Barrow describes a forthright conversation during his onboarding process in which he disclosed his criminal record and was told, “As long as you didn’t murder anyone, you’re fine.”

Equinox, however, ultimately withdrew its offer of employment based on the results of a background check.  Moreover, Mr. Barrow was not given a written description of his rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) before Equinox refused to hire him based on the results of its background check, which is required by law under the FCRA.  New York State prohibits discrimination against applicants for their criminal records, unless a criminal offense directly relates to the specific employment sought or involves unreasonable risk.  During his sentence, Mr. Barrow worked as a porter, completed various programming, and had since reintegrated into his community, attending community college, maintaining steady jobs, a residence, and testing negatively for drug use.

The case was settled with no details disclosed.

With the awareness that incarceration and the challenges of reentry disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, Stephen Ross’s firms are exacerbating these inequities by refusing employment to individuals who seek to better their lives through gainful employment. Furthermore, by neglecting to inform applicants of their rights regarding disclosure of criminal record, it would seem the companies are in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

2018-10-18T16:09:12+00:00October 12th, 2018|Discrimination, News|

Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Against Related Companies and/or Subcontractors Building its Development Projects

Related Companies has a record of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.  Gross misconduct and sexual assault at Related Apartment Preservation, LLC (RAP), an affordable housing arm of Related, were detailed in a legal filing by a former female employee.  This problem extends to rampant complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct against some companies that Related has used as subcontractors.  Trade Off Construction, ECD NY and Power Design all stand accused of sexual harassment or discrimination.  

Examples of behaviors Related and its subcontractors are accused of allowing and/or encouraging include:

  • A Related subsidiary president jeered as a business associate licked the neck of a resisting female Related employee and told her she smelled like a “sensual woman.”

  • A female employee of Related subcontractor ECD NY, Inc. was told to bring in more “pretty, sexy girls” to hire as flaggers.

  • At Related’s 520 West 30th Street project, a Trade Off foreman would stand outside the bathroom, staring menacingly at a female employee; when she confronted him, he reportedly said,  “Bitch, I do what the fuck I want to do. I don’t know who you think you’re talking to.”

  • After enduring inappropriate comments about her body, her diet, her relationship with her boyfriend, and sexual characteristics of other female employees, a female Power Design worker spoke up to supervisors about the harassment; she recounts being told the comments were “boys being boys,” that she should “keep quiet,” and was eventually terminated.

Related Companies itself is no stranger to sexual harassment complaints.  In 2011 a female analyst filed a sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Related.  The worker detailed multiple sexual assaults that were allegedly condoned or encouraged by her supervisors, Mark Carbone and Matthew Finkle, the president and vice president of a Related affordable housing subsidiary.  

The complaint describes a series of sexual assaults that Carbone apparently openly encouraged and enjoyed observing.  These incidents are alleged to have largely occurred at office parties and networking events.  In various incidents described in legal proceedings, Carbone is said to have watched, cheering and laughing, as the female employee was groped and licked despite her repeated protests.  The employee reported enduring comments like, “You smell like a sensual woman” and being asked if her “ass was tight.”. At an office party, Carbone allegedly harassed the employee to “kiss and make up” with Finkle and told her to loosen up when she resisted.

The employee also describes a hostile workplace rife with sexualized commentary and gender-based discrimination.  Conversations between male employees ranged from describing sexual activity between women and lewd comments they made to women.  According to the Court papers, Finkle and Carbone used derogatory terms to describe women like “pig,” “bitch,” and “douche bag.”.  Finkle also made demeaning remarks about women, including asserting that men were dominant to women and that women were not desirable after having children.  Carbone and Finkle would exclude women from work events they organized.  For example, the complaint alleges that the female employee was excluded from “analyst lunches,” golf-outings, a trip on a private plane to watch a Red Skin football game, and mid-day boozy business lunches.

During court proceedings in the case, Related’s attorney took the position that the company should effectively be given full access to the plaintiff’s Facebook account because it had located pictures showing “Ms. Dorn hanging out, drinks in her hand, posing somewhat provocatively with friends—partying basically.”  In other words, Related sought to defend the claim, in part, by suggesting that the woman’s lifestyle or presentation on social media could explain what she said happened to her.  

The case was settled.  Mathew Finkle has since been promoted to President of Related Affordable.

Trade Off Construction

Female construction employees of Trade Off describes a hostile workplace where sexually harassing behavior is routine. Some of the worst examples of this occurred at 55 Hudson Yards, where a worker claims on multiple occasions her supervisor exposed his penis and/or solicited her for sex. Other reports of harassment included inappropriate sexually demeaning comments, and cat calling.

In a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), a female Trade Off employee describes threatening and demeaning treatment by a Trade Off foreman while working on Related’s 520 West 30th Street project.  The worker had already suffered a miscarriage after working through her pregnancy for fear of losing her job.  Her miscarriage required repeated access to on site bathrooms.  As described in the complaint, the foreman would follow her and stand outside the bathroom menacingly staring at her.  When she confroted the foreman, he reportedly responded, “Bitch, I do what the fuck I want to do.  I don’t know who you think you’re talking to.”  After speaking with her supervisors about these issues, the worker claims she was fired.

ECD NY, Inc.

ECD, NY, currently working at Related’s 501 West 18th Street, Manhattan, is accused by a female employee of sexual harassment and discrimination.  In July 2015, the female employee reports she was directed to find “pretty, sexy girls” to hire as fire guards.  After this comment, the female employee discovered her starting salary of $14 per hour was $6 to $8 less per hour compared to men with fewer credentials, according to her legal filing.  She approached company president Barry McKenna about getting a raise to match her male coworkers pay.  For months, the employee says she was promised a raise that never materialized as she continued to do work that required equal skill and effort as her male coworkers.  When the raise finally was granted, it was only an increase of $2 an hour, leaving her paid still significantly less then what male workers were making.  When the female worker brought this concern to McKenna, she was ignored and ultimately terminated, according to legal filings.  The case is ongoing as of August 31, 2018.

Summonses have been issued to ECD NY, Inc. by two additional female employees under the provisions of N.Y. Labor Law §194, which makes it unlawful to pay employees differently based on sex. 

Power Design

Related Companies’ electrical subcontractor at 909 Half Street in Washington DC was accused of allowing sexual harassment in their office as well as discriminating against a female worker in the field.

A female employee of Power Design who worked in their Florida office filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and civil suit against Power Design. She claimed she was “sexually harassed, embarrassed, abusively demeaned, retaliated, and discriminated against at work” by the Regional Vice President, Robert Dean McMillian.  In the federal complaint, the worker alleges “Power Design has a history of condoning McMillian’s illegal conduct by terminating those who do not acquiesce and its corporate culture creates, tolerates and fosters a sexually hostile work environment which forced employees to silently endure, ignore, and condone discrimination or risk termination.”  

The female worker describes verbal and physical harassment ranging from inappropriate comments about her body, her diet, her relationship with her boyfriend, sexual characteristics of other female employees and inappropriate physical contact.  One example disclosed is Mr. McMillian’s frequent recounting of another employee’s appearance in Girls Gone Wild and consistent inquiries if she had watched the movie yet.

When the female spoke up about this behavior, the complaint describes her concerns as dismissed by Power Design as “mere joke” and “boys being boys.”  The worker was told to “keep quiet” and eventually fired in apparent retaliation.  The complaint states that after her termination, in a team meeting, Mr. McMillian told the rest of the staff to “keep his name out of their mouth, or they will ‘end up like’” the terminated female worker.

The case was stayed following the parties’ agreement to resolved the issue through arbitration.

In another sexual discrimination case, a Power Design female project manager claimed that she was terminated for requesting leave for the birth of her child.  This allegation, if proven, is a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act.  According to the complaint, within four hours of notifying her employer of her intention to request this time off, she was terminated.  The case was eventually dismissed by joint agreement of the parties, presumably based on a settlement.

2018-10-18T16:10:56+00:00September 15th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Sexual Harassment|

Union workers arrested protesting Dolphins owner Stephen Ross during NYC demonstration

Union construction workers took to the streets of New York on Wednesday to protest Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ seat on the NFL’s social justice committee.

The group organized under the name “Count Me In” accuses Ross of condoning “racism, sexism and union-busting” through his Related real estate business that is working on a project in New York’s Hudson Yard development.

Protestors arrested at demonstration against Ross

Police arrested several of the protestors who set up near the NFL’s New York headquarters clad in Dolphins-colored T-shirts that read “Step Down Steve.”

A throng of protestors and bystanders gathered at the site.

Ross sued union workers over $20B project

The protest appears to be a response to Ross’ lawsuit against unionized labor. Crain’s, a New York business publication, reports that Ross sued union workers earlier this year, claiming that they bilked his company out of $100 million during the first phase of a $20 billion development project.

Related is seeking to complete the second half of the Hudson Yards project open-shop, which would allow the company to use non-union labor, according to the report.

The social justice committee Ross sits on consists of several NFL owners and players as a cooperative effort to address the social issues that have been prevalent for many of the league’s players.

Count Me In appears to have targeted his seat on that committee as a way to draw attention to their cause.

This article appeared in Yahoo! Sports.

2018-10-18T16:13:05+00:00August 29th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Sexual Harassment, Union Busting|

Union Strong: Local 79 Laborer Leaves Hostile Workplace Behind

In the ongoing battle against so-called “open shop development” at Hudson Yards and the assault on good middle class jobs — wages and benefits figure greatly. But so, too, do things like dignity, safety and respect.

Before joining Laborer’s Local 79, Tierra Williams worked nonunion for an outfit called Trade Off at One Hudson Yards. While on that job, the 29-year-old Flatbush resident says she experienced repeated episodes of sexual harassment from a leering foreman who liked to follow her to the bathroom. It got so bad, Williams didn’t feel comfortable taking a bathroom break unless a friend accompanied her.

“Not only was I exploited as a worker, but as a woman,” Williams told LaborPress this week. “I experienced a lot of sexism as far as my voice not being heard and my opinions falling on deaf ears.”

When Williams persisted in speaking out, she says a general foreman for Trade Off fired her.

“He said it didn’t come from him, but somebody higher up,” Williams said. “I don’t know who that person is.”

Ultimately, Williams insists developer Stephen Ross has failed to take responsibility for the harassment she, as well as a number of other female workers — experienced on that Trade Off job site.

“Many affidavits have gone in and he’s thrown them in the garbage,” Williams alleges. “He has not responded — not even given a word of comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know him personally, he wasn’t there — but I think his voice would matter more than anyone else’s.”

Today, Williams is working union on a job site at 125 Greenwich Street where she is earning better wages and benefits in a “very different” atmosphere that feels “more stable, more concrete.”

“I get the utmost respect on my job now,” Williams said. “That’s because these guys have so much to live for. Other people that I was working with nonunion — they don’t have anything to look forward to — no 401k plans, nothing.”

The were also woefully untrained, according to Williams.

“Most of them are coming right off the streets — they’ve never been to a class, they’ve never been to school,” Williams said. “They’ve been paying for their OSHA cards. They’ve got OSHA cards coming from all over the place. With 79, you’ve got to get your OSHA card through them, you have to go to their schools, they have to know who you are.”

As a union construction worker, Williams said she has further developed the kind of important interpersonal skills that will serve her well far into her building career.

“You get to meet people, learn how to conduct yourself — they actually give you a life lesson as you’re on the job,” Williams said.

This article was originally posted on LaborPress.

2018-10-18T16:13:20+00:00August 29th, 2018|Discrimination, News, Safety Concerns|
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