New York City: Women Bridge Painters Who Couldn’t Get Work Not Entitled to Back Pay

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From 1996 to 2001, the New York City Department of Transportation employed about 40 bridge painters; none were female.  In 2007, the United States District Attorney filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city, stating that "the DOT has never hired, extended an offer to hire, or employed a single woman as a Bridge Painter."  In May a Manhattan federal judge found that the City of New York and the Department of Transportation were guilty of, in the judge’s words, “unvarnished sex discrimination...the net result was to exclude qualified and impressive women from pursuing the careers they desired with the City of New York.” 

At issue now is whether four of the women named as plaintiffs will receive back pay; whether three of them will be offered positions as city bridge painters (one woman has said she would not accept it if offered), and what the new procedures governing the hiring of bridge painters should be. The court held a conference on June 1st to discuss these issues.  While no decisions were made (the judge has scheduled the next conference on December 3rd, 2010),  the city contended that the women should not now be appointed to the positions they sought because they haven’t been employed as bridge painters for five of the last ten years.  A rough transcript of the June 1st conference is below.

You can read the judge's decision here.  (PDF)


6/1/2010 conference at US District Court, Southern District of New York, 500 Pearl Street, part 11D


US District Judge: William Pauley

US Attorney: Jeannette Vargas

NYC Law Department: Bruce Rosenbaum

Plaintiffs:  Helen Jackson, Luzia Oliskovicz (both present), Joann Rush, Helen Jackson

Judge: At issue before us: how to bring this proceeding to a conclusion, specifically what should be done with regard to hiring and back pay.

Vargas: We’ve talked with the City, but they’re saying that no back pay is deserved. The City also expressed concern with the timing requirements.

Judge: Is the government of the view that another evidentiary hearing is needed?

Vargas: No, we did it all at the trial. Regarding back pay, we don’t believe another hearing is necessary. We could discuss hiring requirements more. The primary issue is whether two out of the three women are able to be hired. New York City says that Rush and Jackson don’t meet the 5-year requirement because they left the industry. We think they can be trained, and after all, it’s the city’s fault that they were out of work. The city should not benefit from its own discriminatory practices. We are not taking the position that the women are unqualified. If it’s simply a matter of training, that can be easily addressed.

Rosenbaum: As to whether any or all individuals should be appointed, that may or may not require DOT statements on current bridge painter standards. These women left the field in 1998, 1999, 2000 – they’ve been out of the field for ten years.

Judge: How much time do you need to decide if you need an evidentiary hearing?

Rosenbaum: A week.

Judge: I’d like to avoid an evidentiary hearing.

Rosenbaum: I want to consult with my client.

Judge: June 8th is your deadline to report back via letter. And what about back pay?

Rosenbaum: Neither Rush nor Jackson sought employment as a bridge painter. Ms. Rush relocated to South Carolina to take care of, I think, an adult – it wasn’t anything like bridge painting. And as for Ms. Katanakis, the one position she applied for was at a time when no one was hired, so how can she get back pay?

Judge: The parties should have a meeting, work out differences, and propose a schedule to the court. I’m going to allow another two weeks for this process. “It’s regrettable that it’s not further along in the process.” I’ll put this matter down for further conference. The date is Friday, June 18th at 10am.

Vargas: There are no factual issues left, and I don’t see a chance for a meeting of the minds. We’ll file papers regarding back pay by June 15th.

Rosenbaum: We’ll respond to those papers by June 29th.

Vargas: We’ll file a response on July 7th

Judge: I feel I need an argument on back pay. Mr. Rosenbaum, get a letter to the court on the other issues by Monday.

Vargas: Can we include the hiring of Ms. Katanakis? It’s a legal question of whether she can be held to relief, because there were no hirings. We’ll brief about Ms. Katanakis on the same schedule.

Rosenbaum: We have a concern about the timing of the civil service list. We (Vargas and I) are going to get together about our concerns about the timing. We can’t get the exam out by the date listed in the injunction – we need to modify.

Judge: We’ll talk about this on June 18th. “Work on resolving your issues.




*NYC DOT hiring requirements, as referenced in the judge’s decision, state that bridge painters must have “five years of full-time experience acquired within the last ten years.”