Commission Against Human Rights
Sanders, center, celebrates her arbitration victory with, from left, Rep Marianela
Santana, Assistant General Counsel Alan Brown, Local 154 President Juan Fernandez
and Professional Division Director Stephanie Velez.
A veteran worker at the City Commission on Human Rights,
Paula Sanders has devoted her career to protecting civil rights and fighting discrimination.
did she think her own employer, whose mission is to uphold the citys human
rights law, would treat her unfairly. But she learned that no matter how noble
their mission, employers sometimes lose their compassion when it comes to their
In 2006, Sanders stubbed a toe as she prepared to take care
of her mother in New Jersey. In New Jersey, she visited the emergency room, where
she was informed she broke her toe. Then Sanders saw her regular physican in New
York, and he said that she had to stay off her feet for several weeks in order
for her broken toe to heal.
Human Rights Specialists like Sanders spend
a lot of time in the field investigating bias complaints, holding seminars on
the human rights law, and working with landlords to ensure that property is accessible
to people with disabilities.
However, like many commission employees, Sanders
is also responsible for extensive administrative duties. So, she requested that
the agency allow her to work full-time in the office while temporarily disabled.
the city agency charged with protecting people with disabilities accede to Sanders
request for reasonable accommodation for her temporary disability?
Sanders was hurt and outraged when the commission said she would have
to stay at home while recuperating and use her sick leave for the time off. She
took the issue to Juan Fernandez, president of Amalgamated Employees Local 154,
and DC 37 Rep Marianela Santana, and the three worked together to file a grievance.
Assistant General Counsel Alan Brown of the DC 37 Legal Dept. got involved when
the matter went to arbitration.
The union charged CCHR with violating the
citywide contracts requirement that agencies accommodate workers with temporary
disabilities by assigning them to modified duties. The arbitrator concurred that
a reasonable accommodation was appropriate under the circumstances.
case is a very clear example of how the principle of reasonable accommodation
addresses the best interests of both the employer and employee, Brown said.
The city continues to have the service of the worker and our member is able
to stay on the job and earn a living. Its a win-win situation for everyone.
(and to the commissions credit), as the grievance process dragged on for
over two years, Sanders was promoted to deputy director of the commissions
Community Relations Bureau at its main office at 40 Rector St. in Manhattan.
a result of the November arbitration award, the commission was required to credit
Sanders with the sick days she used while out of work and to reimburse her for
the pay she lost on three other days she was out after exhausting her sick leave.
us, the case was black and white, Fernandez said. A disability is
a disability. And if you are temporarily disabled you have the right to be accommodated.
Sanders: As an employee of the agency that is supposed to enforce the citys
human rights law, I was not treated the same as other people protected by the
commission. I had to file a grievance.