BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A group of employees from a major community organization in Bedford-Stuyvesant were allegedly fired in retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions, a new lawsuit charges.
Razzy Bradford, Chakai Harvell, Shoun Kennedy and Lytasha Randle each claim they faced hazardous materials including mold, asbestos and bodily fluids while working for the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation's first community development corporation, according to a complaint filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
After each reported the conditions to supervisors and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on separate occasions, the workers were fired, the suit claims.
"Plaintiffs were terminated in retaliation for objecting to unsafe and hazardous working conditions constituting a threat to the public health and safety," the civil complaint says.
According to the complaint, Razzy Bradford was performing repairs in a Brooklyn home alongside a crew of workers in June of 2011 when they came across the alleged mold and asbestos. The crew did not have masks or safety equipment, the suit says.
Bradford's superiors allegedly ignored the problem for three days, and the crew refused to continue working, the suit says. Bradford then allegedly filed an OSHA complaint and went to see a doctor.
When he returned to work, the suit says, Bradford's superiors asked him about the complaint and about his illness. Soon after that, he received a "negative performance evaluation," that didn't reflect his actual performance, the suit says. Then in February of 2012, after taking two months off for approved family medical leave related to a birth, Bradford was demoted, the suit says.
After continuing to work for the organization in another capacity for about three months, Bradford allegedly found himself working in hazardous conditions yet again.
"Corroded blood and bodily fluids from the body of the former tenant, who had been discovered dead, were found in the kitchen and the bedroom of the apartment," where work was being done, the suit says.
Bradford contacted his supervisor, Shoun Kennedy, who allegedly told the chief operating officer about the blood, and was told to "work around the area," according to the suit. When days later the job was not completed, the suit says Kennedy's supervisor called to ask why.
"If you want them to go into those rooms and clean, it's up to you," Kennedy allegedly said. "Razzy and [his coworker] are not certified in [hazardous materials] as a crew, nor do they have any protective equipment to safely work that room."
Two weeks after reporting the problem, Bradford was fired for "lack of productivity during his 90 day probationary period," despite working at the company for two years, the suit says.
In June, after additional confrontations with management, Kennedy was allegedly also fired. According to the suit, he was told he was fired because he "didn't like [his] job and doesn't have enough knowledge to perform his job."
That same month, Lytasha Randle began working with Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation as a laborer, according to the complaint.
"From the first week on the job, Ms. Randle complained that there was no safety equipment and employees were not permitted to carry water bottles or drink water on site," the suit says, adding that she was allegedly fired for carrying a water bottle in her back pocket, and rehired soon after on a probationary basis.
"Moreover, Ms. Randle was expected to remove construction waste and bodily fluids without safety equipment or training in how to handle hazardous material."
Randle allegedly complained to OSHA within weeks of her hiring, and was fired on July 18, the suit alleges.
Chakai Harvell, also hired in June of 2012, was allegedly also told she was not allowed to drink water, and complained to supervisors about working in allegedly hazardous conditions without equipment.
After repeated complaints, Harvell allegedly reported the site's conditions to OSHA on July 16. Seventeen days later, she was also fired, the suit says.
But the organization's president said the four workers were just unqualified.
"These folks were new to the work, and whether they could actually do the work was determined in the field," BSRC president and CEO Colvin Grannum said. "And some of them didn't measure up."
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation was created in 1964, in part due to legislation by then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The organization works in the areas of housing, arts and economic development in the neighborhood.
The housing renovation project referenced in the suit was designed to help "chronically unemployed" people get real-world experience, according to the CEO. For some, Grannum said, the work proved to be too demanding.
"For some [workers], it's a pretty abrupt change," Grannum said. "We don't think the retaliation claim has any merit. From our perspective, it was strictly about performance."
The four plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages, to be determined at a later date.