Boston Water and Sewer to review culture, policies after allegations of racist, sexist behavior

BOSTON (WHDH) - The Boston Water and Sewer Commission plans to conduct an “independent” and “thorough” review of workplace culture and policies after a pair of employees filed a racial-and-gender discrimination lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court last week that details explosive allegations including a claim that employees were separated in the lunchroom based on race.

Barbara Gillis, a heavy-equipment operator at the agency since 2013, told 7News that co-workers at the commission referred to her as “the girl” and that she was constantly subjected to “degrading” and rude” behavior.

Gillis said when she would speak with a co-worker who is black, other employees made comments like, “my skin’s not dark enough for her to talk to me.”

Management overlooked complaints about the behavior, according to Gillis. She said one of her supervisors handed out a “hurt feelings report,” including spaces for the “whiner’s name” and the “date feelings were hurt.”

When she first started at the commission, Gillis said she was made aware of a “Mason-Dixon line” that separated employees in the lunchroom based on race.

On Monday, commission spokeswoman Dolores Randolph issued a statement that promised an investigation into the allegations. It also said employees will be forced to undergo a “series of mandatory anti-bias and harassment trainings.”

The full statement reads as follows:

“The expectation of the Board of Commissioners is that only the highest levels of respect and professionalism are displayed by employees of the Boston Water & Sewer Commission. After consulting with the Mayor’s Office, the Board will bring on an external firm that will conduct an independent, thorough review of the culture at the Commission and ensure that the right policies and procedures are in place so all employees feel safe and supported. In addition, the Board has scheduled a series of mandatory anti-bias and harassment trainings to reinforce that discrimination will not be tolerated and will create a Diversity Advisory Committee that will continue the Commission’s commitment to an inclusive and diverse work environment.”