MADISON, Wis. - Four women have filed complaints with the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD), claiming the way Madison Metro hires and promotes employees is unfair to minorities.
Along with race issues, the complainants argued the system favors friends and family of management and tolerates people with poor attendance, a history of physically fighting on the job, and drug test failures on their records.
"We're not asking you to hire us just because we're black. I'm asking you to hire us because we earned it, we deserved it, and we're qualified," Soncerethia Clair-Thomas said.
Clair-Thomas has been driving Metro buses for 18 years. She recently applied for three supervisor positions. She claims the people put in those positions were white and often had less experience with Madison Metro.
In her complaint filed with the DWD, Clair-Thomas said the system "is skewed against black applicants"
"We're not good enough to make cuts. We're ignored and we're tired of being ignored," Clair-Thomas said.
Lisa Banks has managerial experience on her resume and said her interviewers labeled her a prime candidate. She said she was passed over for two promotions to supervisor roles.
According to her claim, Banks said the process by which people are promoted at Madison Metro "has led to no black operations managers hired in 20 years".
"Something's got to change, it has to change," Banks explained. "And may I forfeit my opportunity to go into management with what we're doing, that's OK. I'm advocating for the right person to get in there to be a voice."
Nicole Sampson works the third shift in the garage. The 18-year Metro employee has also tried for higher titles, ones she feels she's already doing the work for. She said she was overlooked for a supervisor spot with daytime hours, and her Caucasian counterpart got the job instead.
"We have got to step up to the plate and get something done. Not to say this is going to do it, but we will try. They can't say that they did not hear us this time. We didn't know. We didn't realize it," Sampson said.
Sampson's complaint details what she describes as a "hostile work environment" as an African-American woman, including situations where white co-workers thought she was being discriminatory with the way she assigned buses.
Sampson also mentioned being the subject of a formal investigation when fellow employees made allegations, and her boss sending emails telling her how to do a job she has performed for more than a decade.
Sampson said while there is a number of African-Americans who work at lower positions at Madison Metro, she wants to see more minorities in higher roles at the transit department.
"What you don't see, the inside of Metro, does not mirror what the public sees," Sampson said. "Not at all."
Rukiya Swan called the situation a "hiring circus."
"I kind of wonder at times if we're using terms as ‘equity' and ‘engagement' and ‘culture' as a ploy to make it look good," Swan said.
Swan went for a customer service position last year. In her claim, she said the human resources department at Madison Metro told her she scored second highest on the applicant test. The position was offered to a white woman, who did not perform as well on the test and who had fewer years of experience with the department.
"When it came down to it, a couple times, I was even asked not to fight for it, to let my less senior counterpart compete and thrive for that position," Swan said.
Swan continues to clean buses for Madison Metro.
The complaints put the four women in a position to eventually sue their employer for discrimination. Before that, they say the state will investigate their claims and possibly moderate.
Madison Metro administration said they do not comment on pending litigation.
The group stressed the goal is not going to court, but rather to bring about change. The women said they are looking out for fairness in the future.
"We see it being, just being boxed in to being a driver or a service worker or a janitor, which is nothing wrong with those positions," Swan explained. "However, if you want to do more, if you aspire to be more, that should be afforded to you."
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