A former high ranking staff attorney for the San Francisco Housing Authority whose contract wasn’t renewed says the troubled city agency discriminates against white lawyers and favors African Americans.
According to the lawyer, Joel Blackman of Fairfax, 51, agency director Ronnie Davis said at a staff meeting in August 1998 there were people who would be removed
“cleanly” so there would be no “blood” on his “hands.”
Blackman, who is white, said in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court on Monday that he believed the comments were directed at him.
He also claimed a white female staff attorney whose performance was “as good . . . or better than minority employees” was fired, and another white male lawyer resigned in January “due to the racially hostile work environment.”
All three white lawyers were replaced by minorities, he said.
Blackman, whose title was assistant general counsel, said Davis’ alleged remarks were made at meeting in which he introduced the new general counsel for the agency, Carl Williams, who is black.
According to Blackman, Williams previously had referred to the white lawyers on staff as “white boys” at a meeting with other agency workers, before he was named general counsel.
“As a general rule, I was never treated well,” Blackman said. “The white lawyers were treated differently. . . . It was very tense.”
Blackman said other “racially discriminatory” incidents will be made public. He said he would not describe them until his case had progressed further.
The Housing Authority’s attorney, Gary Lafayette, asserted that Blackman would not be able to prove any of his allegations.
Lafayette said the minority lawyers granted permanent posts had superior credentials to Blackman, and he denied that Blackman ever had a written promise of permanent employment.
Davis and Williams declined comment.
Said Blackman’s attorney, John Scott: “Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and this wasn’t it.”
Virgil Jackson, the Housing Authority’s retired human resources director, said that while he could not confirm some of Blackman’s allegations, he sympathized with the lawyer’s “total frustration” over the uncertainty of his position while at the agency.
The lawsuit is one of a series of developments in the last few months that have drawn negative attention to the Housing Authority.
On Tuesday, federal agents arrested an agency official and her former deputy on bribery charges in connection with their management of a rent subsidy and relocation-aid program for the poor.
The arrests followed an Examiner disclosure in August that FBI agents had seized or sought records from a number of city agencies, including the Housing Authority, in a probe of city contracting practices.
In late August, Housing Authority official Buddy Tate Choy was arrested and charged with various fraud violations. His case is pending.
Earlier this year, an Ohio state audit of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Housing Authority, Davis’ former employer, said that he and his ex-boss, former Cleveland housing director Claire Freeman-McCown, incurred improper credit card debts and were overpaid $630,000 in excessive salaries and benefits.
Davis’ attorney denied any wrongdoing by his client.
According to his lawsuit, Blackman, a longtime Mission District poverty lawyer, interviewed for what was described as a permanent Housing Authority post in November 1997 and was hired a week later. When he reported to work, however, he said he was informed the position was temporary.
When he complained, Blackman said, he was told he would be named assistant general counsel with a salary of $97,344 a year and made permanent. He said he also was told the agency still would go through the formality of advertising the position and conducting interviews.
More than 100 applications were received, according to the suit, but the pool of minority applicants was allegedly not large enough to suit Emma McFarlin, a black advisor to the agency working for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. McFarlin allegedly insisted the search continue.
Reached at her Los Angeles home, McFarlin said Blackman’s claim was “not true – I would not be guilty of that.” She declined further comment.
Blackman, meanwhile, said he was operating under the assumption – allegedly confirmed by his immediate supervisor – that he would be made permanent. He said he bought a car for $25,000 and encouraged his wife to quit her job and stay home to care for their 1-year-old child.
Despite assurances that they would be made permanent, Blackman alleged, the three white lawyers on staff continued as temporaries until May 1998, when the white female was terminated.
All of the approximately 10 finalists for the permanent posts were minorities, Blackman said.
He said Davis, the director, told him complaints had been made about his work by Housing Authority commissioners and others, whom he did not name. According to Blackman, he had never met the commissioners and was unaware of any complaints about his work.
Nonetheless, the lawsuit said, the three permanent posts were filled with minorities – a Latina, an African American and a Japanese American.
On Oct. 2, 1998, Blackman was informed that his contract would not be renewed.