Black Female Employees File Racial Discrimination Suit Against North Las Vegas

Two North Las Vegas human resources employees have filed a discrimination complaint against the city, alleging in a grievance filed with the Employee Management Relations Board that they were promoted without additional pay.

Tammy Bonner, a female, and Bachera Washington, a black female, said they were handed a nearly $15,000 promotion in September, only to see those pay raises pulled one month later, presumably because of an anonymous complaint filed with the mayor’s office. City leaders have declined to release a copy of that grievance.

Bonner and Washington’s labor board complaint, filed in March, claims white male employees promoted under similar circumstances have not seen their salaries rolled back.

It goes on to allege that Bonner has been intentionally deprived of union representation as a result of the move, highlighting the claim that officials’ decision to withdraw the pay raise had “interfered, restrained, or coerced” Bonner out of a Teamsters Local 14-eligible employee pool.

She and Washington — both human resources analysts with decades of combined experience at City Hall — are seeking to recoup the raises and their legal fees through the labor board, the state panel formed to mediate disputes between management and public employees.

Neither the complainants nor their attorneys returned requests for comment.

Officials have denied the discrimination allegations. It remains unclear whether they will try to settle the legal complaint out of court, which would not be an unusual outcome in such cases.

Attorneys from both sides met for a preliminary labor board hearing on the complaint on July 10.

Complaint proceedings have since been delayed at the city’s request.

“It was a little vague,” EMRB Commissioner Bruce Snyder said of the stay order OK’d by labor board members early this month. “It’s not an unusual move, but it remains unclear to me whether they’re trying to informally resolve (the complaint) or go ahead to arbitration.”

Human Resources Director Austin Scaccia, the city administrator who doled out raises to Bonner and Washington in September, declined to comment on the complaint.

City officials said his decision to promote the two sent “shock waves” through City Hall, where each of the city’s more than two dozen departments had recently weathered a third round of cutbacks and layoffs meant to buoy the cash-strapped city’s books.

Documents obtained by the Review-Journal suggest the pair had already received $13,000 in combined pay raises only four months prior to the September pay boost.

City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan pointed to privacy concerns in declining to release internal complaints related to either salary increase. She cited pending litigation in declining to comment further on the city’s hiring and promotion process.

Staffers familiar with that process said Bonner’s and Washington’s promotions, while consistent with the city’s pay scale, simply should not have happened in the midst of a pay freeze.

Perhaps more important, according to mayor’s office Chief of Staff Ryann Juden, is that such a move won’t happen again.

Former City Manager Tim Hacker authorized bonuses totaling $111,000 for 11 top city officials during hiring freezes implemented in fiscal 2013.

Juden said that’s exactly the type of spending Mayor John Lee was elected to combat, in part through a critical position review committee formed in October to “establish hiring and classification controls” in the city’s recruiting and promotion process.

“When questionable practices were discovered, the mayor and (City) Council immediately directed staff to develop and implement new controls to clean up the way we do business, and ensure fiscal prudence moving forward,” Juden said.

Lee declined to comment on whether the city planned to settle the discrimination complaint.

Whatever the outcome, he plans to keep Bonner’s and Washington’s salaries — and those owed to all city employees — under the microscope.

“Everyone knows we inherited a real financial mess, and many residents will be surprised at some of the abusive practices we exposed, but I can assure them we have wrapped our arms around the problems, stopped the bleeding and are working tirelessly to ensure they are never repeated,” Lee said.

“Reforming our city is not comfortable to some, but the days of biting the hands of taxpayers is over. We have changed the way business is done in North Las Vegas and (are) restoring accountability to City Hall.”