Last month, lawyers representing six Black workers who were fired from the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority filed a federal suit against the agency accusing officials of violating the workers’ civil rights.
Officials accused the workers last year of printing and selling nearly 10,800 “2 Ride” passes in violation of the agency’s policy. The agency charged that they printed out the free passes, usually distributed when a bus breaks down, is late, or another poor customer service issue, and sold the passes at a reduced cost.
Their lawyer, Damario Solomon-Simmons, denied the claim in a telephone interview with NewsOne and his clients. He states the drivers, like every other driver at Tulsa Transit, did hand out free passes to improve customer service as instructed by their supervisors.
The passes had no value, and later Tulsa Transit admitted in court, under oath, that Tulsa Transit had no evidence the drivers sold any passes, he said. But the workers lost their jobs, were arrested, jailed, and prosecuted, and most have been rendered unemployable because of bad publicity surrounding the case, they told NewsOne recently. Most are older with 65 years of combined service to the agency.
Solomon-Simmons tells NewsOne that the case highlights the struggles African-Americans face on the job–if they can find one with today’s unemployment rates, where the rate for Blacks is consistently double the amount for Whites, despite education.
Whether Blacks work as a top-level executive in the C-suite, as city bus drivers, or hustle for tips on a wait staff, they face discrimination and injustice similar to what is being played out in the criminal justice system that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Solomon-Simmons talks about the case and problems faced by Black workers in America in an email Q&A:
NewsOne: What is this case about?
Damario Solomon-Simmons: Essentially, this case is about a shameful example of government officials misusing their state powers and the criminal justice system in a perverted attempt to destroy the lives of six long-time Black bus drivers because of racial animus and discrimination.
According to the official police and court records in our possession, my clients were falsely arrested, detained, and imprisoned without probable cause and without due process. While under false arrest, my clients were threatened with being booked into jail and prosecuted if they did not pay money that Tulsa Transit and its executives arbitrarily and discriminatorily deemed my clients owed [from the passes].
Officials misused their powers to extort money from innocent bus drivers who only did what they were told– promote customer service. In addition to violating my clients’ 4th Amendment rights, officials also destroyed my clients’ reputations by knowingly causing false and defamatory accusations that my clients were guilty of stealing and embezzling money from the Tulsa Transit Authority. Finally, Tulsa Transit withheld my clients final paycheck for over 6 months in violation of Oklahoma labor laws.
NO: Why should Black America pay attention to this case?
DSS: Blacks have always been the “first fired, last hired” and unable to access adequate capital to start viable business, which is why Black unemployment continues to be double that of Whites.
Therefore, anytime African-Americans like my clients, who have good jobs with decent pay, and benefits, are fired under questionable circumstances, it should cause alarm. Sometimes officials like those at Tulsa Transit are intimidated by successful Black men and women, who have strong families, and live in communities free of the social ills that tear at the fabric and potential of our communities. Oftentimes having them unemployed and unemployable fits the narrative they believe should exist.
NO: How often does this type of thing happen to Black workers?
DSS: Last year out of the 88,778 charges of employment discrimination in the U.S., 31,073, or 35 percent, were based on race and mostly by African-Americans, although African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the population.
In short, employment discrimination continues to plague the African-American community because institutional racism is still very prevalent. Despite progress from the 1960’s, Black workers are under attack.
NO: The Black Lives Matter movement has been powerful about addressing problems in the criminal justice system. What can be done about workplace injustice?
DSS: Blacks must acknowledge and not forget that in the workplace, like society in general, there is a “Black tax” for living in America.
While you cannot control the actions of others, you can control your actions to ensure that you do not give “the racists at work” the opportunity to discriminate against you and then claim it was for a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason.” As a result, we must be two times more proficient at our jobs, show up early and leave late, have minimal non-work related discussions and activities at the workplace, and never leave any doubt about our job performance.
Black workers must always hold employers responsible when they face discrimination. If not, institutional racism will continue to perpetuate.