Southampton Town Housing Director John C. White has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court that seeks $18 million in damages and alleges that he was subjected to years of racial discrimination, received lower raises than his white colleagues and forced to accept early retirement after the Town Board eliminated funding for his $81,600 position this fall.
A copy of the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York in Central Islip on December 10, states that Mr. White, who is black, is also seeking payment for attorney fees and costs, a declaratory statement to be issued by the town acknowledging that his rights were violated, and injunctive relief in the form of the town correcting all past and present violations of state and federal laws.
While Mr. White is still currently employed by the town, he is set to retire on December 31 as part of a state early retirement incentive. But his attorney, William Germano with the law office of Frederick K. Brewington in Hempstead, said his client was forced to retire after the Town Board eliminated funding for his position under the adopted $79.9 million 2011 budget.
“Essentially, because he was written out of the budget, he really had no other option,” Mr. Germano said of Mr. White’s decision to accept retirement.
Mr. White, who did not return a call this week seeking comment, filed the lawsuit a year after he filed a discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, according to a copy of the federal lawsuit. That complaint served as a prerequisite for the lawsuit filed this month, Mr. Germano said.
Town Comptroller Tamara Wright on Wednesday confirmed that Mr. White has accepted early retirement. When asked about the lawsuit, Ms. Wright said she had no knowledge that it had been filed.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who first proposed eliminating funding for Mr. White’s position from the 2011 budget, did not immediately return calls on Wednesday.
In his lawsuit, Mr. White alleges that, based on a series of events that unfolded since his employment with the town began in 2003, and up until his forced retirement, he has repeatedly had his civil rights violated because of his color. The document states that members of the Town Board, including Ms. Throne-Holst and former Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, violated his civil rights and discriminated against him. Further, he states in the litigation that he has suffered and continues to suffer “loss of income, loss of other employment benefits, loss of career opportunities, and has suffered and continues to suffer repeated, severe and permanent psychological, emotional and trauma and damage, including distress, humiliation, embarrassment, great financial expense and damage to his reputation.”
The complaint highlights an alleged history of salary disparities in which “white similarly situated top administrators” were granted better raises than he was, according to the lawsuit. Mr. White’s salary was $80,000 when he started his employment with the town in 2003.
Mr. White’s lawsuit also states that town officials—namely, Ms. Kabot and Ms. Throne-Holst—tried to get rid of him. The complaint cites specific examples, such as when Ms. Kabot attempted to dismantle the town’s Housing Office in 2007. The lawsuit states that Ms. Kabot stated in public that Mr. White was not qualified to lead the department based on his background.
He is also claiming that Ms. Throne-Holst “attempted to coerce him into a forced retirement” under the New York State early retirement incentive, which he opposed.
Ms. Kabot could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Germano said the first conference date between the parties has been set for April 20.
“John is a very good disposition—that’s my opinion,” Mr. Germano said. “He handles it well. He continues to perform his job as best he can, and he’s got a lot of experience in that field, so he continues to act on the best interest of the town, despite the fact that he’s experiencing a lot of this stuff.”