Dust still settling

Lawsuit accusing Lennar of racism and retaliation against whistle-blowers also reveals effort to deceive the community
|
(0)

sarah@sfbg.com

A racially charged lawsuit by a trio of Lennar Corp. employees accuses the developer of exploiting and endangering Bayview–Hunters Point residents. It also offers an inside look at how the company responded to an asbestos dust scandal first reported by the Guardian ("The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07) and raises questions about Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to give Lennar more control over the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard.

The suit was filed by three prominent African American community members — Clementine Clarke, Gary McIntyre, and Ceola Richardson — whom Lennar, a Florida-based megadeveloper, hired as liaisons to the community and its subcontractors. They are represented by attorney Angela Alioto, a former supervisor and mayoral candidate. The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination and harassment (mostly by local Lennar vice president Paul Menaker), retaliation for whistle-blowing, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiffs allege that Menaker, who is white, made disparaging comments about African American workers and community members. "Menaker frequently yells at Plaintiff and other African-American employees, but does not yell at non African-Americans," alleges the lawsuit, which also accuses Menaker of delaying payments to African American clients but not to those of other races.

The plaintiffs also claim that after Minister Christopher Muhammed of the Muhammed University of Islam, which sits adjacent to the Parcel A site where Lennar is working and was exposed to dust from the project, brought his students to Redevelopment Agency meetings and asked that construction cease until the school was permanently relocated, Menaker referred to him as a "shakedown artist."

Perhaps of greater concern to the public are the lawsuit's allegations that Lennar executives ignored McIntyre's warnings that Lennar subcontractor Gordon Ball was neglecting to control dust at the site and that Lennar employees were ordered to maintain a "code of silence" about subcontractor CH2M Hill's failure to monitor asbestos, for which Lennar was cited by local and state officials. McIntyre claims that after blowing the whistle on Gordon Ball, he was demoted and denied further information on how the company was handling dust, even as he was expected to tell the community that Lennar was taking all the necessary steps to protect public health.

Lennar spokesperson Sam Singer told the Guardian the lawsuit contains "numerous false allegations" — then pointed the finger at McIntyre.

"Gary McIntyre was in charge of overseeing contracts," Singer told us. "It was on his watch when incidents of dust occurred, and members of the black community called up and complained and demanded that he be replaced. Were there some violations? Yes. Were they disastrous? No. People in the community didn't want Gary in that position. Numerous dust mitigation workshops were held by Lennar and Arc Ecology, and in September we held a special meeting to discuss the violations."

Clarke, a Newsom-appointed fire commissioner and Lennar's community benefits manager, told us she felt "stuck between a rock and a hard place" when Menaker told her and McIntyre not to mention the asbestos dust monitoring had been botched. By then, Clarke recalled, McIntyre had already been demoted for criticizing subcontractor Gordon Ball.

"Gary had been complaining to Paul Menaker that the leadership at Gordon Ball was not following the dust control policy," Clarke said. "Gary was constantly trying to get Gordon Ball to do what was right. After Gary was demoted, he was placed on Porta-Potty and Baker Tank duty."

"It was done to make me quit," McIntyre told us of his demotion.