FIRE ISLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A former Verizon worker on Long Island has been awarded more than $2.5 million by a jury in federal court.
He claimed the giant company discriminated against him.
Fire Island is the beach community known for its laid-back attitudes, so while employed as a field technician for Verizon six years ago, Adan Abrue took off his company-logoed shirt and opted for an undershirt so he could rinse off while working in poison ivy-filled yards.
“I’ve always been a person who goes by the book, but on Fire Island things were totally different. Rarely anyone use to wear their shirts,” Abrue told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff exclusively on Wednesday.
But his infraction was met with a reprimand. Verizon managers plucked him from the plum assignment and transferred him to the mainland, where the Dominican-born former Marine said he would make far less overtime. Verizon claimed he had repeatedly violated dress code work rules.
“The only conclusion I could come to was I was the only non-white worker there,” Abrue said.
“When we had co-workers who were white came in and testified and said nobody followed that rule,” attorney Fred Brewington said.
A federal jury agreed, finding discriminatory conduct by the telecom giant. Abrue was awarded money for pain and suffering and punitive damages, totaling more than $2.65 million, Gusoff reported.
“I did this out of principle,” Abrue said. “I knew that it would bother me for the rest of my life that they did this to me.”
“This is a major victor for plaintiffs who say, ‘I have been wronged,’ and think they can’t go up against the Goliath,” Brewington added.
Abrue said he hopes Verizon learned its lesson.
“I just hope that they learned their lesson,” Abrue said. “I happen to be the one that stood up to them. There are certain managers that need better training, that need to learn how to treat others.”
Verizon spokesman Rich Young told CBS2’s Gusoff, “Although we respect the jury system, this jury got it wrong. Verizon does not tolerate discrimination in the workplace and it did not happen here.”
The spokesman said Verizon has one of the most diverse work forces in the nation. Abrue said he was the only minority on the Fire Island crew until he sued.
Verizon has already started the process of filing an appeal.