A lawsuit by three African-American Town of Hempstead sanitation workers charging that their supervisors did not do enough to help them after a co-worker hung a noose in a common area is expected to go to trial in January, lawyers in the case said Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt issued a decision saying that the lawsuit filed by Leo Smith Jr., Benjamin Cannon Jr. and John Christopher Smith can go forward. The lawsuit is one of several stemming from the same incident.
According to Spatt's decision, Leo and John Smith arrived at work April 19, 2007, to find a noose hanging on the wall. Cannon did not see the noose but was told about it later, the decision said.
According to court papers, one supervisor, Michael McDermott, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, called a meeting and told workers that "the hanging of the noose might have been acceptable or funny 10 years ago, but that it was not acceptable today," Spatt's decision, released in July, says.
Later, John Beyer admitted to his superiors that he had hung the noose, but said he had not intended to make a racist statement. He said he was making a joke with a co-worker about how sanitation department benefits were insufficient, the suits says.
However, Beyer said he only hung the noose for a few minutes and did not believe any African-American workers had seen it, raising questions about whether someone else hung it up again later, Spatt's decision said. The lawsuit charges, among other things, that McDermott, Robert Noble, secretary to the Board of Commissioners, and Nicholas Dionisio, a midlevel supervisor, did not sufficiently investigate whether that happened.
Spatt ruled that there is no basis for the claims against original defendants Beyer or the Sanitary District Board of Commissioners.
"The jury is going to get a chance to evaluate the actions of the sanitation district, which turns out to be a cesspool that our clients had to endure," said Fred Brewington of Hempstead, the plaintiffs' lawyer.
But Gregory Lisi of Rockville Centre, who represents all the defendants in the case other than Beyer, said it's wrong to hold the sanitation district responsible for what one man did.