Firing in Youngstown sparks charge of bias

I was terminated because I’m white, ex-city worker says

By David Skolnick


A former 20-year city employee, fired after an arrest, is suing Youngstown and Mayor Jay Williams saying he lost his job because he’s white.

The lawsuit filed by an attorney for Robert Kauffman of West Boston Avenue acknowledges the former Water Department worker was fired for failing to report the loss of his driver’s license, failing to maintain a license, possession of drugs and sick-leave abuse.

But Thomas N. Michaels of Poland, Kauffman’s attorney, wrote in the lawsuit that the firing was “motivated based on [his client’s] race” and that black employees who “engaged in the same or similar conduct” were “not terminated from their employment.”

Kauffman, 56, wants to be reinstated to his job that paid him $42,998.28 in annual base-pay salary. He is also seeking compensatory damages for lost wages, salary benefits, lost retirement and lost seniority as well as money for his “mental anguish and pain and suffering,” according to the lawsuit.

In 2008, his last full year with the city, Kauffman received $53,932.51 in base-pay, overtime, longevity pay and a uniform allowance.

Williams said Kauffman wasn’t fired because of race.

“We terminate when justified regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic” status, Williams said. “When people violate city policy and commit crimes, we terminate them.”

City Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello said four others were fired by the city in the past couple of years for failing to report the loss of their driver’s license and failing to maintain a license. Of the other four, three are black, she said.

“The city has been enforcing that provision [included in union contracts two years ago] regardless of race of the individual involved,” she said.

Repeated attempts by The Vindicator to contact Michaels and Kauffman were unsuccessful.

The civil lawsuit was assigned to Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The city’s personnel file of Kauffman, hired Aug. 15, 1988, is filled with reprimands, including several suspensions, and W2 forms that show his annual salary increase from $18,132.30 in 1989, his first full year with the city’s water department as a laborer, to $53,932.51 in 2008, his last full year as an engineering aide II. He was promoted to that job Dec. 30, 2005.

An engineering aide II is responsible for marking the city’s water lines for projects done by other agencies, checking water leaks and pipe breaks, and responding to odor and taste complaints, said Eugene Leson Jr., the department’s chief engineer.

A review by The Vindicator of Kauffman’s personnel file shows he was suspended six times between April 1997 and February 2009 for a total of about 75 unpaid days. He was also not paid for 22 days between June 2004 and May 2007 for unexcused absences.

The suspensions were for being repeatedly absent for work without legitimate reasons, testing positive twice “for an illegal substance,” using city equipment and materials on city time to patch the private parking lot of a Belmont Avenue restaurant, and being arrested for felony possession of drugs, cocaine, and driving under the influence.

The last one led the city to fire Kauffman.

Kaufmann’s car hit a curb, flattening a tire, on Mahoning Avenue, near Glenwood Avenue, at 2:23 a.m. Jan. 4, 2009, according to a police report.

After his car hit a curb, Kauffman got out and threw a bag of cocaine underneath it, according to the report. His blood-alcohol-content was 0.202, more than two times the legal limit of 0.08, the report states.

While at the county jail, Kauffman had someone call him off work as being sick, and he then called in sick from Jan. 6 to 16, according to his personnel file.

Kauffman was found guilty in June 2009 by Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of a lesser charge of permitting drug abuse, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 180 days in the Mahoning County jail and a $1,000 fine. The jail sentence was suspended as was half of the fine with Kauffman placed on a year of probation.

Kauffman went to common pleas court seeking to vacate an arbitrator’s decision agreeing that the city had the right to fire him. Magistrate Daniel P. Dascenzo rejected Kauffman’s motion to dismiss that decision in September 2010. A month later, Judge Lou A. D’Apolito adopted the magistrate’s decision.

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