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West Babylon company settles EEOC lawsuit

A&F Fire Protection's offices in West Babylon, seen

A&F Fire Protection's offices in West Babylon, seen on Thursday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A&F Fire Protection Co. Inc., a West Babylon fire sprinkler and fire safety equipment installation company, has agreed to pay $407,500 to settle a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In a 2017 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, the EEOC charged that A&F discriminated against a class of black and Hispanic employees over a period of years, including subjecting the workers to the “frequent use of slurs” in the workplace, a news release issued by the agency Wednesday said.

The commission also asserted that A&F retaliated against employees who had complained about or “opposed unlawful discrimination.”

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Denis R. Hurley entered a consent decree resolving the case.

“Even blatant displays of racism and retaliation have not been eradicated from today’s workplace,” Jeffrey Burnstein, New York District regional attorney for EEOC said in a statement. “Faced with a hostile work environment infected by racial slurs, the victims in this case bravely spoke out against discrimination and filed charges with the EEOC.”

Larry R. Martinez, an attorney for A&F, issued a statement on behalf of the company on Thursday: “While A&F was confident in its defenses, given the increased litigation costs, A&F agreed to resolve this long-standing dispute without admission of liability. A&F maintains it was in full compliance at all times in this case and looks forward to continued compliance with Title VII and other anti-discrimination laws.”

According to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of minority employees and documents instances of alleged discrimination from 2013 through 2015, the company is alleged to have repeatedly allowed the use of epithets against black and Hispanic employees.

Business owner Kenneth Fulep allegedly did not remedy the discrimination over the years, even when slurs were said in his presence, the suit said. The EEOC accused him of firing or forcing out minority employees when they complained about their treatment.

In one example from the suit, the EEOC alleged that an assistant superintendent at the firm learned that some superiors and subordinates nicknamed him “BBG” or “Big Black Gorilla” on their cellphones. When he met with two of them and Fulep in June 2013, he allegedly called their phones, court papers said. Each time, the smartphones’ ringtones played “the sounds a silverback gorilla makes” and announced the slur, the suit said.

The assistant superintendent continued hearing the programmed ringtone on colleagues’ phones even after the meeting, court papers alleged.

According to the suit, when two other employees filed complaints with the EEOC about other instances of discrimination, A&F’s owner allegedly ordered the assistant superintendent to fire them. The assistant superintendent refused, the lawsuit alleged, and he was forced out in May 2015 after the company converted him from a salaried employee to an hourly employee, reduced his work hours and barred him from reporting to work at the main office during business hours.

In addition to the settlement payments, which constitute lost wages and other damages awarded to a class of black and Hispanic employees, the company has agreed to take “substantial non-monetary corrective action,” including the implementation of annual training for employees and supervisors on federal employment discrimination laws, the appointment of an equal opportunity employment coordinator, and the creation of a revised anti-discrimination policy, the release said.

The commission will monitor the company’s compliance with the terms of the settlement for three years.

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