Lawsuit filed against Boston Water and Sewer alleges racial discrimination, sexist behavior

BOSTON (WHDH) - A racial-and-gender discrimination lawsuit filed against the Boston Water and Sewer Commission Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court details explosive allegations including a claim that employees were separated in the lunchroom based on race.

Barbara Gillis and a former worker are suing the agency because they claim the racism and sexism were too much for them to handle. Gillis said the “degrading” and “rude” behavior dates back to 2010.

“They didn’t even call me by my name,” Gillis told 7News. “They called me ‘the girl.'”

Gillis had been a heavy-equipment operator at the agency since 2013. She 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.”

Gillis said complaining about the behavior to management would only make things worse.

One supervisor said “don’t say the ‘N’ word around the girl, she’s going to cry about it,” according to Gillis.

Gillis explained that her supervisor even handed out what he called a “hurt feelings report,” including spaces for the “whiner’s name” and the “date feelings were hurt.”

The suit also alleges that Gillis was told “not to cross the Mason-Dixon line” in the lunchroom when she started the job.

“The sort of minority people sit on one side of the room and all of the white people sit on the other side of the room,” Gillis said.

The other plaintiff, who is black, said a worker once used a black marker to color a mirror on his desk and wrote “can you see me now,” “yo yo yo,” and “Run DMC.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh sent 7News a statement that read: “It goes without saying that the language and actions alleged here should not be tolerated in any workplace and we hope that this is resolved as quickly as possible.”

Gillis said the people who harassed her should be fired from the agency.

“I honestly feel as though Boston Water and Sewer is just stuck in a different time,” she said.

Gillis is currently out on disability after being diagnosed with anxiety. Both she and her former co-worker are suing the agency for more than $1 million.

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