NJ town pays $2.43 million to 5 DPW workers who endured years of racism
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SOMERVILLE — Gregory Paremore toiled at the borough Department of Public Works for 31 years. He never got a promotion.
Paremore is black and his superiors, who were white, routinely referred to him and other minorities by racial slurs, denied them job-advancing opportunities and raises, and ignored their complaints, according to a lawsuit Paremore filed last year in federal court.
Last month, he and borough officials agreed to settle the litigation by paying Paremore $225,000.
Another DPW employee, Ferdinand “Eddie” Collazo, who was the department’s only Hispanic worker, will get $450,000 to drop his own federal lawsuit that alleged racial discrimination, according to documents obtained this week by New Jersey 101.5.
The two settlements follow a $1.75 million payment last year to three other black DPW employees whose federal lawsuit described the DPW as a “toxic racist environment” and claimed that municipal officials turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the “old boys club” despite persistent complaints by the minority workers.
The settlement agreements state that borough officials do not admit to any wrongdoing. But the municipality — the childhood home of black civil rights icon Paul Robeson — has since acknowledged that some employees acted inappropriately, and even fired one official.
As a result of the first lawsuit filed by former DPW workers Rodney Dorsey, Wade Hall Jr. and Todd Vandervoort, the borough agreed in its settlement to institute anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for all workers and volunteers and to hold regular meetings of a committee tasked with continuing “a dialogue on diversity in the workplace.”
It was not clear Thursday whether the borough had followed through on the committee hearings. Mayor Brian Gallagher did not return a call for comment Thursday.
After the first three black workers initiated their lawsuit, the borough fired longtime DPW superintendent Peter Hendershot, who workers had accused of mistreating them.
An investigation by the municipality found that Hendershot used “inappropriate racist language,” adding "that such conduct could have occurred in the 21st century in a New Jersey municipality is outrageous."
Even though he was fired, Hendershot will collect an $86,500 a year pension while his brother, Anthony, also named in all the lawsuits, retired with a $51,000 annual pension.
The workers were represented by Sarah Fern Meil of Milford and Joseph Alexander Brophy of Philadelphia.