Nothing has changed at City Hall

Despite discrimination judgment, problems not addressed

BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH recently began what will be a year-long series of conversations about race in neighborhoods around the city, with an aim to heal old wounds and move forward.  I applaud the effort, but talking alone is not enough.  If Mayor Walsh is really committed to implementing change, he should start now, in his own administration.

A call to action was handed to the mayor a year ago, when a Suffolk County Superior Court jury awarded me a $10.9 million dollar verdict as a remedy for the discriminatory treatment I have endured as a black woman working in the Trust Office of the city’s Treasury Department.  I love my job, and have worked for over three decades to help fund projects to improve and beautify the public spaces in neighborhoods across the city.  But the evidence in the case was clear to both the jury and the judge:  because of my race, I was excluded from meetings and responsibilities, passed over for promotions that went to less or equally qualified non-black candidates, denied reasonable requests for overtime, and prevented from doing work for the community and receiving awards that I deserved.  I was made to feel like I was not smart enough to do my work and shut out of my job.

Chantal Charles

Chantal Charles

In attempting to force my immediate supervisor to give me an undeserved negative performance evaluation, the First Assistant Collector-Treasurer described me as “aloof, non-deferential, and uppity,” terms that are all too familiar to people of color.  My supervisor resigned in protest of my treatment, an act for which I will always be grateful, but one that a decent, hardworking public servant should never have had to make.

Despite the jury’s verdict and the ample evidence presented in my case, nothing has changed at City Hall where I continue to work every day.  The First Assistant Collector-Treasurer and her deputy remain in their positions. As far as I know, the city has not implemented any programs to change the fact that employees of color are passed over for promotional opportunities and under-represented in high-level city jobs.  None of the problems brought to light in my case have been addressed in any way and, in fact, Mayor Walsh has never attempted to resolve my case and is now appealing the verdict.  The mayor’s spokesperson has told the media that my experience was the product of previous administrations.  But so far, I’ve seen no difference in the Walsh administration.

Following the jury verdict, the damages in my case were reduced to $2.9 million by the trial judge, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Fahey. But Judge Fahey did not question the facts of the case.  In her decision, she wrote that African-American employees in my department consistently faced discriminatory practices. She said that she hoped that by upholding the jury’s judgment that she would send a “necessary message of condemnation and deterrence to the city.”  My hope that the message was heard by the city and Mayor Walsh is fading.

I recognize the importance of dialogue.  But there are steps that Mayor Walsh can take without further conversation that directly affect the city’s employees and demonstrate leadership to residents of Boston at large.  As the city’s own 2015 Workforce Report makes clear, one of the most essential steps is “proactively developing internal pipelines of talent for leadership positions” to diversify the least racially diverse departments in the city, which includes not only my department, Treasury, but the mayor’s own office, Labor Relations, the Law Department, as well as the Fire and Police Departments.  Commissioned by Mayor Walsh, the report states the importance of having a workforce that reflects the city’s own composition, a population in which non-white residents now comprise the majority.

Meet the Author

Chantal Charles

Trust Office, Boston Treasury Department
At my trial, the city’s Human Resources Director testified that the city had hired a diversity officer and formed committees to improve diversity in the police and fire departments, but made no mention of real action taken in any city departments.   That was over a year ago, and nothing has happened since then.  I, along with many others working at City Hall, are always willing to listen and engage in dialogue, but we await concrete action.

Chantal Charles is a 30-year employee of the city of Boston.