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City mechanic awarded $50,000 in discrimination case

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has sided with a mechanic for the City of Boston who alleged that he was singled out because of his race and then faced retaliation after he filed a bias complaint.

The city was ordered to pay Theophilus Drigo $50,000 in damages for emotional distress and to expunge all “unwarranted disciplinary proceedings” from his record during the time the alleged discrimination occurred, according to the decision by MCAD hearing officer Eugenia M. Guastaferri.

Guastaferri concluded that the city “committed an unlawful act” and that Drigo, who is black, “was subjected to disparate treatment that was discriminatory and retaliatory,” such as being given persistent notices and warnings and being passed over for a promotion.

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“I conclude that [the treatment of Drigo] caused him to suffer considerable emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment,’’ Guastaferri wrote, quoting Drigo. “He ‘always [had] to be walking on pins and needles on the job’ and ‘be cautious’ about what he said, what he did, and how he did it. He felt he was constantly under attack.”

Matthew M. McGarry, assistant corporation counsel for the city, has appealed Guastaferri’s decision, citing errors of law, Drigo’s credibility, and unsupported substantial evidence. McGarry asked that the full MCAD commission hear the matter and urged commissioners to dismiss with prejudice Drigo’s allegations.

The city argued that there is no evidence showing that Drigo received harder work assignments, was denied training, or a promotion because of his race. The city said Drigo was spending “exorbitant” time on the phone that was affecting his work performance.

“In reality, Mr. Drigo was not a victim of race discrimination,’’ said the city’s response, reviewed by the Globe. “Rather, his work performance in the Communications Shop was deficient, and on at least one occasion, he was openly insubordinate.”

MCAD’s spokesman H Harrison confirmed the decision, saying he did not have a timeframe for when a full commission decision on the appeal will be rendered.

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City officials, noting that the appeal process is ongoing, said the judgment has been stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

Drigo, who could not be reached for comment, has for more than 15 years worked in the Public Works Department’s Central Fleet Management Division, which repairs and maintains about 1,200 city-owned vehicles and heavy equipment.

He alleged that the discrimination occurred between March 2013 and February 2014 in the division’s communication shop, which handles such tasks as installing and repairing two-way radios, lights, strobes, and performing decal laminating.

An MCAD hearing was held in November, and Guastaferri issued her findings in March. The city’s appeal was in April.

Drigo’s complaint named two supervisors. He said one supervisor, who had given him good reviews, became more aggressive and hostile toward him after two new employees, who are white, were hired to work in the shop.

Drigo alleged that the supervisor gave the two men many of his formal duties and that Drigo was assigned the more difficult job of working on older vehicles, which were often corroded from salt and snow.

He said the supervisor repeatedly reprimanded him for his cellphone use, at one point called him “lazy”and a “spoiled child,” and denied him training opportunities that were offered to the other employees.

Drigo said he initially complained to managers in the division, but nothing was done. He filed a complaint in September 2013 with the city’s human resources department, which later faulted the supervisor’s management of the shop and noted his comments to Drigo could have been perceived as “racial stereotyping,” the MCAD documents said.

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Human resources concluded that Drigo did not substantiate his claims that the treatment he endured violated the city’s discrimination, harassment, and retaliation policy. Officials recommended regular shop meetings, better communications, support and management.

The supervisor resigned before the report came out. But Drigo contended, and MCAD agreed, that after he filed his internal complaint alleging race discrimination with human resources, he began to experience retaliation almost immediately, specifically by a new supervisor.

Over a period of six months after Drigo filed his complaint, the MCAD decision said, he received more than seven notices from the new supervisor regarding expectations, deficiencies, or warnings about his performance. A bulk of the complaints was about cellphone usage on the job. In one instance the supervisor instructed an employee to take a photo of Drigo on his phone, the decision said.

Guastaferri said she concluded that supervisor’s “persistent notices and warnings constituted retaliation.”

She acknowledged some of the city’s claims about Drigo’s job performance, but said they “likely had a kernel of truth to them,’’ arguing that Drigo “may not have been a model employee in every instance.” But “the evidence suggests many of the cited infractions were largely exaggerated.”


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.

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