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Kansas City Agrees To Pay $450,000 In Discrimination Case Even As Alleged Harassers Remain On The Job

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

The settlement amount still needs approval from the city council.

NaToyia Wilson spent four years investigating cases of discrimination for Kansas City.

Now, the city is preparing to pay Wilson $450,000 to settle allegations of gender discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment she said she experienced at the city’s civil rights division. It’s the latest in a string of lawsuits that prompted the city to create a new division to combat discrimination and create a better work environment.

A Kansas City council committee is set to consider approving the settlement amount on Wednesday. It would then need approval from the full council.

The three employees Wilson claimed created a toxic work environment still work for the city.

From 2013 to 2017, Wilson worked as a human relations specialist where she investigated claims of discrimination in employment and public accommodations. After complaining that a male coworker got access to training that she was denied, Wilson said her manager, Thomas Randolph, retaliated against her.

Wilson alleges that Randolph “participated in and encouraged” other employees to harass her, according to a lawsuit Wilson filed in 2017.

“He would tell me, you know, like — I mean every single thing that I did was wrong. Like I just couldn’t get — couldn’t do anything right,” Wilson said in a 2018 deposition obtained by KCUR. “... He would just talk to me as if — like I was nothing.”

Randolph no longer oversees the civil rights division. But he still works for the city as a senior human relations specialist, according to a city spokesman.

In a deposition, Randolph denied harassing Wilson and said Wilson wasn’t a team player. Wilson’s lawyer David Lunceford declined to comment.

Wilson lodged numerous complaints about her work environment, including raising issues with Randolph as well as the human relations director and the city attorney. She also called the city ethics hotline.

Phillip Yelder, the human relations department director at the time, acknowledged in a 2018 deposition that Wilson reported allegations of harassment. When Wilson alleged that a coworker threatened her, Yelder said he asked her to explain the allegations in a team meeting with the alleged perpetrator sitting across the table.

“She never articulated that so it was hard to get to a point where if she didn’t say specifically what people was doing,” Yelder said in the deposition.

When Wilson complained that another coworker made her feel unsafe, Yelder said a “comprehensive investigation” by HR found “no credibility that anyone was threatening or harassing” her.

In depositions, employees denied harassing Wilson. Kansas City spokesman Chris Hernandez said he could not comment on active lawsuits but pointed to the new Equal Employment Opportunity division as evidence that the city is taking steps to combat discrimination.

“We are taking this seriously,” Hernandez said.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said the new division would have a “significant impact” on addressing discrimination, but it might be a while before there’s a reduction in lawsuits.

“More importantly, the reduction in losses should be a reflection of people following our very clear personnel rules, which is that you do not discriminate,” Shields said.

Kevin Baldwin, an employment lawyer who has sued the city but was not involved in the Wilson case, is less optimistic. Baldwin said new positions won’t make a difference if the culture doesn’t change.

“There is no culpability because it's not money out of their pocket — it's taxpayer dollars,” Baldwin said.

In the 2018 deposition, Wilson said she lost track of the number of times she reached out to her supervisor and other city officials. She blamed the city for not taking action.

"They have allowed for ongoing and continuing hostility and threats towards me," Wilson said.

Corrected: January 26, 2021 at 10:23 AM CST
Phillip Yelder was the human relations department director at the time, not the human resources director. This story has also been updated to clarify attribution.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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