In the summer of 1999, all Michael Condon wanted was a few more hours among the trees.
The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities decided last year that Condon was the victim of age and disability discrimination when Yale Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Walter Debboli Jr. assigned extra hours to younger employees instead of to Condon, who had requested the hours.
Condon, a cook’s helper in Kline Biology Tower during the academic year and a grounds worker during the summer of 1999, requested to work 40 hours a week, an increase from his usual 20 hours. Documents summarizing the investigation of Condon’s case issued by the commission explain that extra hours were available, but Debboli chose not to grant them to Condon, who was then 55 and suffering from a degenerative spinal disorder.
Now that the commission has ruled in Condon’s favor, all that is left is to decide exactly how much Yale owes him in back pay. There will be a public hearing in Hartford in August to determine the amount Condon will be compensated.
“It’s eaten at my stomach for years now,” said Condon, in reference to the subject of the discrimination suits. “[Yale] failed to do what is morally, logically right.”
Frances Holloway, director of Yale’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, said she could not comment on Condon’s case, but said his decision to take the case to the commission is rare. She said workers with concerns about discrimination have many options to choose from, including filing a formal complaint with the commission — as Condon did — or discussing the grievance with her office or their union.
“The thing is, even the formal complaints start out with an investigation similar to what I do,” Holloway said.
Though Holloway said she felt uncomfortable releasing the number of complaints her office has handled this year because of the confidentiality promise her office advertises, she said it is similar to that of other Ivy League schools.
“We say, ‘If you feel you’re being treated unfairly — come and talk to us,'” Holloway said. “I haven’t gotten the sense that there have been complaints we haven’t dealt with.”
Despite Holloway’s claims of accessibility, Condon said Holloway told him she could not be of help when he came forward with a request for assistance. Condon subsequently said that Holloway did find a way for him to get the MRI he needed as part of treatment for the injuries he had received on the job in a separate incident, which resolved some of his original concerns.
Condon said he did not believe he is the only one who has been the subject of such troubles, claiming that many employees decline to come forward with complaints for fear of losing their jobs.
“I’m not alone. Believe me, I’m not a martyr that’s crusading,” Condon said.
Federal equal employment opportunity laws protect employees from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. The laws apply to all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions that employ more than 14 people, according to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Web site.
Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said in an e-mail that the University encourages employees to use Yale’s internal procedures to resolve complaints.
“These procedures initially aim at informal resolutions, but if that cannot be accomplished, they provide rules for conducting a hearing and having a determination made by a grievance panel. Having solid grievance procedures that people use is an important way to resolve disputes short of litigation. I know they work,” Robinson said.
But Condon chose not to take that route, and now he says he will not let anything get in the way of what he sees as justice.
“I welcome the fight,” he said.