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City worker urges more discipline in future racial slur cases

Posted at 7:35 PM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 22:35:45-04

PHOENIX — A Phoenix city worker, who is suing for employment discrimination, won't settle the case until the city strengthens its policy against harassment, according to her attorney.

Attorney Stephen Montoya sent a letter to city leaders Monday saying employees who use racial or other discriminatory slurs at the workplace should be terminated. Current policy allows for employees with substantiated complaints to face termination or a wide range of lesser discipline.

Rhita Bercy, a Haitian refugee who settled in the Valley and became a Phoenix employee, filed a discrimination complaint in 2019 with the city's Equal Opportunity Department.

"She's been a great employee, but this has really hurt her," Montoya said.

Documents from a city investigation found a coworker called Bercy a "Black princess" and used the "N-word." According to the report, she also talked about Black people being "stupid" and complained about sharing a bathroom. The coworker denied the allegations, but the city investigation sustained the complaints. Even so, the alleged harasser received performance reviews saying she embraces diversity, and she remained in the housing department.

"The city's heavy on rhetoric, not very heavy on action," Montoya said.

Montoya says using the N-word or other discriminatory slurs in the workplace, especially directed at a coworker, would get you fired at many Valley businesses, and he says the same should be true in the City of Phoenix.

"This should not happen again," Montoya said. "This is so basic, and in our opinion, so commonsensical that it behooves the city to change its policy."

A spokesman for the City Manager Jeff Barton sent ABC15 a statement saying, "The city does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in the workplace. We, however, provide our employees with due process but will not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action."

So far, no city leader has agreed to support Bercy's request.