A former Verizon Communications employee has won a $2.7 million jury award in a discrimination lawsuit that revolved around when he wore his company shirt.
Adan Abreu, who worked for the company on Fire Island, said in the suit he was discriminated against because of his dark skin and the company retaliated against him when he complained. After a 2 ½-week trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip a 10-person jury agreed and made the award on Tuesday. The suit had sought about $3 million. It also names three Verizon managers, but only two were found liable, according to the jury verdict sheet.
"It is total vindication," Abreu, 54, said Wednesday.
Verizon denies the charges and plans to appeal.
“Although we respect the jury system, this jury got it wrong,” said Rich Young, a spokesman for the Manhattan-based company. “Verizon does not tolerate discrimination in the workplace, and it did not happen here. We have already started the process to challenge this decision.”
Abreu, whom his lawyer Fred Brewington of Hempstead described as a "dark skinned" Hispanic man originally from the Dominican Republic, quit in 2014 after 25 years with Verizon because of the discrimination, according to the lawsuit. The suit says the mistreatment ratcheted up after Abreu was promoted to work as a field technician on Fire Island, considered a plum assignment because of opportunities to earn overtime.
A supervisor told Abreu he “would be sure” to get Abreu off the island before the supervisor retired, the suit says.
While on Fire Island, Abreu was assigned to work in areas that were covered with poison ivy, the lawsuit says. Wanting to make sure he didn’t carry it home, he removed his Verizon shirt and wore a tank top instead and was reprimanded, according to the suit. But white co-workers who frequently worked without company shirts weren’t reprimanded, it says.
Abreu says in the suit he was threatened with removal from Fire Island and endured “abuse, ridicule and discrimination.” After he filed a complaint to a Verizon ethics committee, he was removed from working on the island, the suit says.
He retired five to 10 years before he had planned, because of "severe emotional stress," the suit says. He filed the lawsuit in 2015.
The jury award includes damages for lost overtime, emotional distress and punitive damages.