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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Port Authority Can’t Pass the Buck in Bias Suit

MANHATTAN (CN) - The Port Authority cannot share liability with security companies at a Ground Zero construction site, where a supervisor allegedly shared Klan literature with a black, whistle-blowing fire safety worker, a federal judge ruled.

Vincent Goodman, a former fire safety director at Ground Zero, said he worked nearly 90 hours a week for four years to provide for his wife and six children.

His job required him to report any hazards threatening the construction site to his supervisors, defendants Donald Parente and Martha Gulick.

Months after he was hired in 2004, Goodman says, Gulick berated him with racial stereotypes about his large family, saying, "People like you were the reason the rest of us have to pay high taxes."

On April 4, 2007, Goodman says, Gulick printed out the official Handbook for the Ku Klux Klan in full view of the other workers. Goodman says a colleague complained, which prompted an investigation.

Four days later, Goodman says, Gulick called him into her office and threatened to fire him if he spoke about the incident. Goodman says he brought the matter to the Port Authority's Human Resources department anyway, but the department never issued a report on the incident.

Goodman says he returned to his desk 2 months later to find a disturbing article.

"On or about June 18, 2007, an article was placed on Goodman's desk and another employee's chair, ostensibly relating to a relative of Gulick who was convicted of hanging an African-American man in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964.

"When questioned about the June 18, 2007 incident, Gulick stated, 'I'm going to play the sick card,'" the complaint states.

Though Gulick removed herself from the office during the 4-month investigation, she suffered no reprimand, and kept berating Goodman with "racial innuendos" when she returned, he says.

Goodman said he sent Parente a series of emails on Jan. 2, 2008 warning that the nearby PATH Station's [Port Authority Trans-Hudson] fire safety monitoring system was in trouble, which Parente allegedly ignored, before the system failed two days later.

According to the complaint, Goodman told a Fire Department official about the problem at a later inspection, and PATH management moved his office in retaliation.

He claims Parente fired him that December for pretextual reasons.

In 2010, Goodman sued Gulick, Parente, Port Authority, contractors Summit Security and Guardian Services, among others, for a host of claims, including racial discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment and wrongful termination.

Port Authority, Gulick and Parente filed cross-claims against FJC Security Services, Summit and Guardian, for breach of contract, indemnification and contribution.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet dismissed most of the claims against the contractors, in a 61-page order indicating that Goodman has stronger claims against the Port Authority.

"All alleged behavior constituting plaintiff's emotional distress claim are attributed to either Parente or Gulick, employees of the Port Authority," Sweet wrote. "Accordingly, since Summit cannot be held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and contribution under New York C.P.L.R. § 1401 is only appropriate where two parties are both liable for the same injury, Port defendants' cross-claim for contribution is dismissed."

Sweet has not yet ruled on the Port Authority's motion to dismiss.

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