A statistical analysis by the city’s human resources department has found some “inconsistencies” in the disciplines meted out to the water management department’s white and minority employees.
The analysis of discipline logs from 2011 through September 2014 found that discipline – written reprimand, suspension, demotion or firing – was more severe when the employee and supervisor were of different races than when they were of the same. In some cases, minority employees were more seriously disciplined than white workers for similar offenses.
Mayor Bill Bell and the city’s Human Relations Commission want to know more.
“There are people behind those numbers,” Bell said. “The staff needs to take a closer look at some of those things.”
Human Relations Commission Chairman Ricky Hart said his group also intends to “further research the issue.”
Water management Director Don Greeley did not immediately respond to an invitation to comment.
The city undertook the analysis in response to discrimination complaints from the City Workers Union last summer. Encouraged by Bell, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden and City Councilman Eddie Davis, the union asked the Human Relations Commission to investigate as well.
Analyzing the water department overall, the analysis found a statistically significant disparity in the number of disciplinary actions taken against minority and white employees for 2011-14 compared with the department’s demographics.
For 2011-14, water management employees were, according to the analysis, 45 percent white and 55 percent minority: 51 percent black and 2 percent each Hispanic and “other.”
In that period, for the water department overall 68 percent of disciplines were of minority employees – a figure that, statistically analyzed, was above the level that could be attributed to chance.
However, said Human Relations Director Regina Youngblood, “When you drill down” and compare disciplinary actions with demographics at specific work location, “there is absolutely no statistical significance whatsoever.”
Bell wasn’t so sure.
“There are some discrepancies, I felt ... that people might not have picked up as being as significant as I think they were,” he said.
“If you look at some of the what I consider really severe disciplines that have been handed out – like suspensions, terminations, demotions or whatever – and you look at the percentage that were given to white employees versus the percentages given to black employees, it’s almost three times, percentage-wise,” he said.
“Of the disciplines received by white employees, 47 percent were written, compared to only 34 percent of those received by minorities,” the analysis report states.
According to the report, in 2011-14, there were 39 suspensions, demotions or terminations of minority employees and 13 of white.
“That’s significant to me,” Bell said. He also said the numbers of multiple disciplines of particular employees and the reasons behind a difference in the severity of disciplines when supervisors and subordinates were of the same race and when of different races bears deeper inspection.
“Those are just my areas,” he said.
Hart said the Human Relations Commission had formed a subcommittee to get more information from the city’s personnel office and report on it at the commission’s Jan. 6 meeting.
“And we’ll go from there,” Hart said.
The analysis report itself had four recommendations:
• Employee focus groups “to clarify employee concerns”;
• Reviews of proposed disciplines to ensure city-wide consistency;
• Bias training by an outside consultant;
• Monthly discipline reviews to spot potential issues.
“All of the conclusions and the steps we’re taking have my full support and we’re going to continue to monitor that situation,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said.
Bonfield said he was satisfied with the analysis.
“There are a number of focus group meetings that are scheduled,” he said. “If other information comes out of those that wasn’t considered the original review, that would change things.”