Former SEPTA maintenance worker sues for discriminatory firing

By Jon Campisi | Dec 2, 2011

A former maintenance custodian for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority who was fired from his job in December 2009 after 16 years of employment has filed a federal civil rights claim against the transit agency, alleging his termination was related to his race.

Philadelphia resident Lawrence Brown, who is black, contends in his suit that SEPTA fired him for discriminatory reasons.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 30 at federal court in Philadelphia by attorney Olugbenga O. Abiona, alleges that SEPTA fired him from his job based on false allegations of theft of the authority’s benefits and for participating in illegal activity.

Through his lawsuit, however, Brown denies ever having been involved in any thefts or illegal activity.

“Plaintiff denied these allegations and Plaintiff was never charged with any criminal activity by the District Attorney’s Office, nor was Plaintiff ever convicted of any crime,” the lawsuit states. “For the preceding sixteen years of Plaintiff’s employment with SEPTA, Plaintiff was not charged with any inappropriate conduct and has never been warned of engaging in any inappropriate conduct by SEPTA.”

The lawsuit doesn’t seem to specify exactly what types of benefit thefts or other illegal activity Brown was accused of committing by SEPTA.

However, the complaint does state that white employees who have allegedly engaged in similar activities were allowed to stay on the job despite findings that they committed serious errors.

For example, the lawsuit states that a SEPTA police officer who was once caught on a store surveillance camera stealing merchandise, and another time discovered using a company account to pay for a rental car while he was on vacation, was never terminated, but instead allowed to resign his employment and obtain a severance package.

Another example of preferential treatment offered in the complaint involves the account of another incident involving a SEPTA worker who lied on a SEPTA police report about an accident he was involved in that damaged a company vehicle.

That action resulted in no disciplinary action against the employee, the suit claims.

A third incident mentioned in the complaint involved yet another white employee who pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery for failing to disclose more than five years of conflict of interest by being “unlawfully influenced by the certificates he received for purchasing items from a SEPTA vendor.” The employee, however, was never terminated for his actions, the lawsuit claims.

“All SEPTA employees, including Plaintiff, [and the others], are subject to similar SEPTA policies that prohibit employees from engaging in deceitful, theft of Authority and illegal, immoral or unauthorized activities,” the lawsuit states. “SEPTA’s Labor Relations, EEO/AA Department and Personnel Department are required to ensue equitable enforcement of SEPTA’s rules and policies on all employees, regardless of race.”

The lawsuit alleges that SEPTA’s termination of Brown was discriminatory and a violation of his federal civil rights.

As a result of his firing, Brown alleges that he’s sustained a loss of wages and benefits, loss of future earning power, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation and harm to reputation.

Brown seeks lost pay, compensatory damages in excess of $100,000, attorney’s fees and other court costs.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07366-TON.

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