Suit: Black dispatchers told they speak ‘ghetto’
Pittsburgh — Three minority women who worked at a county 911 center in Pittsburgh have filed discrimination lawsuits, with one of them saying black dispatchers were made to take calls from inner city residents because they knew how to speak “ghetto.”
The women contend they were subjected to ethnic slurs. One, Kelli Rodriguez, who is Hispanic, said she was subjected to unwanted sexual comments from a white male supervisor, including asking whether she liked to have sex with black men.
Rodriguez, of Verona, was hired as an Allegheny County dispatcher in September 2013 and was fired three months later.
Ruby Helvy, a black Pittsburgh woman, was suspended without pay last month and is awaiting a termination hearing on allegations that she neglected her duties, according to her lawsuit.
The third plaintiff is Dapree Thompson, of Penn Hills, who is also black. She has been a dispatcher for 10 years and remains employed, but she is suing because she contends she’s been unfairly subjected to more severe discipline than white workers who committed similar offenses.
County spokeswoman Amie Downs said it doesn’t comment on litigation.
Thompson said that in 2011 emergency crews in the field referred to her by a racial slur during a call. She said supervisors promised to find out who made the remark but never did.
Since then, Thompson contends she’s been forced to work mandatory overtime shifts rarely required of white employees and was suspended for five days for an argument with a white employee who wasn’t suspended.
Thompson has since also been reprimanded for speaking too fast during calls — a criticism she said had never occurred before. She also said she and other black dispatchers “were made to receive calls from the inner city of Pittsburgh because Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services told them that they could speak ‘ghetto.’”
Helvy, who was hired in 2005, said she was suspended for a day for not being at her desk for a call in December 2012 but that white workers weren’t punished for similar infractions. She was suspended twice for three days each early last year “due to general attitude, neglect of duty and politeness” and then for a week in March 2013 for “insufficient effort and inattention to detail,” according to her lawsuit.
Helvy contends similarly situated white workers weren’t disciplined as harshly.
Rodriquez said a supervisor played recordings of her calls and made fun of how she handled them, as well as spelling mistakes she made on reports. Another supervisor, a white man, screamed at her while she was taking 911 calls, her lawsuit said.
“This screaming was so loud that 911 callers could hear the screaming in the background and would ask plaintiff what the noise was,” her lawsuit stated.
All three women are seeking unspecified damages for lost wages and other injuries.