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B&H Foto Sued By Labor Department Over Alleged Discrimination

By John Santore | February 25, 2016 6:29pm

NEW YORK CITY — An administrative lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Department of Labor alleges that B&H Foto & Electronics Corp. discriminated against Hispanic, female, black and Asian employees at its Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse.

The suit, filed with DOL’s Office of Administrative Law Judges, follows a department investigation that took place between January 2013 and March 2014, according to DOL spokesman Ted Fitzgerald.  

B&H is a federal contractor, and therefore comes under regular DOL review, Fitzgerald said. The company currently has more than $46 million in contracts with the FBI and General Services Administration, according to the agency. 

Among its accusations, the DOL claims B&H “relegated Hispanic warehouse workers to separate, unsanitary and often inoperable restrooms.”

The company also “failed to provide designated restroom or changing facilities for females,” the DOL said, and directed “racist remarks, degrading comments and harassment” at Hispanic employees on the Navy Yard worksite.

Additionally, white workers were paid more and promoted more readily than Hispanic workers at the Navy Yard facility, while black and Asian workers weren't hired for entry-level positions, the DOL said. 

B&H spokesman Harold Posner declined to comment on the allegations Thursday, citing their inclusion in litigation against the company. 

The DOL suit asks B&H to fix the alleged practices and to compensate impacted workers. 

Fitzgerald said the department tried to rectify the matter with the company prior to filing suit, but B&H failed to do so. 

If the New York business loses the case in administrative court, its federal contracts could be canceled, and it could be barred from winning new ones in the future, Fitzgerald said.

The DOL’s actions follow accusations made by workers last October of dangerous working conditions at the company’s two Brooklyn warehouses, as reported by Al Jazeera America and Patch.com. B&H was slapped with a $32,000 OSHA fine earlier this month, as reported by Hyperallergic.com, which it has appealed.

Employees initiated a unionization campaign last October, as reported by the New York Times. Workers at the Brooklyn facilities voted to join the United Steel Workers in November, while employees at the store’s Manhattan location authorized joining the USW on Feb. 23, according to Hyperallergic.com.

Posner declined to comment Thursday on the workers’ claims of unsafe conditions in company facilities. However, he said B&H “has always stood behind our employees’ legal right to seek union representation.”

“Our employees have played a central role to the success of our business, and that is why we have gone to great lengths to ensure the highest standards for living wages and benefits, workplace safety, and respect and dignity in the workplace,” he said.