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Federal lawsuit alleges discrimination by PSEG LI, others

A PSEG Long Island crew is seen at

A PSEG Long Island crew is seen at work on July 10, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A former project manager for PSEG Long Island claims he was discriminated against because he is black and was fired after he attempted to expose an alleged improper-billing scheme by a contractor, according to a recent federal lawsuit.

In a 17-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip early this month, Ayokunle Jemiri, 42, who is of West African descent, accused his PSEG Long Island boss and a project contractor of discrimination based on his race, skin color and national origin.

A PSEG Long Island spokesman would not comment on “pending litigation” or personnel matters. The contractor named in the suit, IPS of Somerset, New Jersey, didn’t return numerous calls seeking comment.

Jemiri’s suit said he was hired by PSEG Long Island in 2014 as manager of project management in Hicksville. He led transmission and distribution project management and oversaw up to $350 million in annual work for the company, with a staff of 20 responsible for electricity distribution projects around Long Island.

According to the complaint, Jemiri repeatedly asked his supervisor for a raise to levels comparable to white co-workers, including some with less experience. Those requests were refused, the suit says, and Jemiri was prevented from attending “crucial senior leadership meetings.”

“They shut him out of leadership positions,” said Jemiri’s lawyer, Jimmy M. Santos of Cornwall, New York.

Jemiri in 2015 complained to PSEG Long Island’s human resources department that a manager for IPS, the PSEG contractor, had created a “hostile work environment” for African-American workers in the department. Jemiri alleged PSEG “made very little effort, if any, to discipline or remove” the manager.

At the same time Jemiri raised allegations that the manager was “improperly billing, mischarging and/or overbilling for work on a project to which he was not assigned ...”

Jemiri in an interview said the practice could expose Long Island ratepayers to future liability because, he alleged, his PSEG supervisor didn’t properly classify costs associated with a capital-forecasting software project. The IPS contract manager brought to Long Island to work as a project scheduler instead worked on the software project with intellectual property from PSEG’s New Jersey sister company, Jemiri charged. The companies have strict protocols for keeping separate and fairly priced the costs for each division’s work, he said.

Soon after Jemiri reported the allegations, Jemiri’s boss shifted him to a post with fewer leadership duties, and replaced him with a less qualified white manager, while accusing Jemiri of a conflict of interest, according to the suit.

Jemiri in March and April 2016 filed a formal written complaint over the alleged discrimination and retaliation for exposing the alleged overbilling. Shortly afterward, according to the suit, he was fired for allegedly failing to cooperate with investigators and for providing answers the company deemed “not candid.” Jemiri denies the claims.

The suit, which names PSEG Long Island, New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group Services, his supervisors, IPS, seeks back and forward pay and other unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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