The plaintiffs and their attorneys stand in front of City Hall. Left to right: attorney Shauna Madison, Eric Bailey, Sharon Hamilton, Donnell Russell Jauregui, Deborah Hill, Chris Stuart, attorney Felicia Medina. Photo courtesy Medina Orthwein LLP

Five current and former Black employees of the city of Long Beach filed a class action lawsuit against the city this week alleging multiple violations of anti-discrimination laws and systemic anti-Black racism, according to court documents.

The lawsuit alleges that discrimination takes place across multiple departments, including Technology & Innovation, Public Works, Fire and Civil Service. What’s more, the plaintiffs allege that the city’s Human Resources department, Civil Service Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Office—offices designed to protect all workers from harm—have “failed to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and instead have tried to suppress complaints and preserve white supremacy.”

The Los Angeles Times first reported the lawsuit on Thursday.

City spokeswoman Jennifer De Prez said city officials haven’t yet reviewed the lawsuit.

“The City of Long Beach is committed to maintaining a discrimination-free workplace for all City employees and candidates for employment and takes pride in its diverse workforce,” she said in a statement. “The City is also a leader in Racial Equity, as evidenced by the Long Beach City Council’s adopted Framework of Reconciliation, which outlines 21 distinct strategies and 107 potential action plans for addressing Racial Equity.”

Felicia Medina, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said it is incumbent on the city of Long Beach and all municipalities to do right by its Black employees. She also said she expects more plaintiffs will join the suit.

“Our clients are seeking equity and change,” she said. “It is our hope that the leadership will see this lawsuit as an opportunity to join its employees as problem solvers to both name and end discriminatory policies and practices.”

All five plaintiffs—Christopher Stuart, Eric Bailey, Deborah Hill, Sharon Hamilton and Donnell Russell Jauregui—allege that supervisors passed them over for promotions in favor of lesser qualified, non-Black individuals. They also say the city subjected them to repeated discrimination, harassment, “heightened scrutiny,” a civil service exam that allegedly discriminates against Black people and a hostile work environment, according to court documents.

“The city and its leadership continue to show a reckless disregard for our humanity by subjecting us to less than BASIC professional standards of business practices: inclusiveness, fairness, equity and supportive leadership,” said Russell Jauregui in a statement. “This lawsuit is a collective effort to address the systemic racism in the city.”

Of the plaintiffs, only Bailey no longer works for the city, having retired in February after nearly 36 years at the Public Works Department.

While saying this case was very similar to other class action suits her firm had brought, attorney Shauna Madison said this case also had “overtly disgusting, racist aspects” that she hadn’t seen before. One of those was Stuart’s allegation that a coworker had told him their supervisor had “implied that it was honorable to be in the Ku Klux Klan,” court documents show.

Stuart has worked at the city’s Technology and Innovation Department since 2014.

Throughout his time there, he said he’s been treated with disrespect, heightened suspicion, and surveillance, according to court documents. This includes being “cussed out” by his supervisor, “belittled and disrespected” by his peers and “accused of stealing batteries,” court documents show.

Stuart filed a complaint with the state Equal Employment Opportunity Office in February 2020, but the complaint states that it was found “unsubstantiated” six months later.

Hill said she complained informally to managers that lesser-qualified people were being promoted ahead of her, but her concerns were “brushed aside,” according to court documents. Hill has worked in unclassified positions that offer her virtually no job security for the past 19 years.

Court documents state that Hill also took, and failed to pass, the Wonderlic aptitude test, which has long drawn criticism for alleged anti-Black bias. The city no longer uses the test, the lawsuit states, “due to numerous complaints of racial bias against Black people.”

Stuart, Bailey and Hamilton allege that they were “misclassified”—forced to do the work of higher-ranking positions without a corresponding increase in compensation, court documents show.

In addition, Hamilton alleged in the lawsuit that the city retaliated against her for complaining against former Civil Service Director Kandice Taylor-Sherwood, who resigned in October 2018 shortly after an internal investigation found evidence that “unprofessional conduct” had been occurring in her department.

In March, the city agreed to pay Bazella Caprice McDonald, a special projects manager with the city’s Civil Service Department who had also complained against Taylor-Sherwood, $701,000 to settle her anti-Black discrimination lawsuit. Another lawsuit alleging anti-Black discrimination from former Civil Service employee Keion Bryant is still pending.

In addition to asking for monetary relief, reinstatement, restitution and penalties, the plaintiffs are also asking for a “truth and reconciliation commission” in hopes of gathering a full accounting of the alleged racism and discrimination at the city.

“That is a fantastic way to address these claims,” attorney Shauna Madison said. “We need to document and memorialize the experiences of everyone who’s experienced racism.” Otherwise, she said, memories of the trauma they’ve experienced will fade.

City pays $700K to settle lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by Civil Service director

Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.