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Oakland, Calif. – October 17, 2007 – An Oakland jury awarded $1.27 million to an African-American BART train mechanic who said the transportation agency failed to prevent a co-worker from racially harassing him and, instead, reprimanded him and passed him over for promotion in retaliation for filing multiple harassment complaints. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District is a public agency and employs more than 2,700 workers.
Oliver Hill, a 21-year U.S. Air Force veteran who went to work for BART in 1999 for a second career, claimed he was passed over twice for promotion as a result of his complaints of racial harassment against a white co-worker. His 2004 lawsuit claimed his repeated complaints of racial harassment and discrimination, which he brought to the attention of BART’s Office of Civil Rights, BART’s workplace violence coordinator, a member of the BART Board, the BART police and his managers, were never seriously investigated nor addressed by anyone in management. Instead, during the period from December 4, 2000, when he filed his first complaint, to May 2007, he became a victim of workplace retaliation by management and co-workers. He was put on forced administrative leave for 21 months, sent for multiple psychiatric evaluations and passed over twice for promotion. He was also reprimanded after the white co-worker he had accused of using a racial slur and physically assaulting him filed counter-charges against Hill based on three incidents where Hill was accused of behaving in a disrespectful or intimidating manner. Testimony at trial established that BART never provided Hill the opportunity to respond to the counter-charges, but instead reprimanded Hill for harassment and alleged false charges.
“He was reprimanded by BART for saying ‘excuse me’ to a white-co-worker who was blocking his access to a water fountain,” said Hill’s lead trial counsel Jean Hyams, a partner at Boxer & Gerson in Oakland. “BART’s treatment of Oliver Hill was like something from the Jim Crow South. He was literally reprimanded for drinking from a water fountain while a white man was nearby.”