DOC health official files discrimination lawsuit

DOC Deputy Commissioner for Health Affairs Nichole Adams-Flores, who is black, says she's been frozen out of important duties by white and Asian colleagues

By Stephen Rex Brown
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Bumbling jails staff put inmates at risk by exposing them to tuberculosis for a month, a senior member of the Department of Correction alleges in an explosive new discrimination lawsuit seeking $5 million in damages.

DOC Deputy Commissioner for Health Affairs Nichole Adams-Flores, who is black, says she's been frozen out of important duties by white and Asian colleagues who are disproportionately represented in the department's upper ranks.

The suit filed on Christmas Eve in Manhattan Federal Court, details a bureaucratic breakdown between the Department of Correction, which oversees city jails, and NYC Health + Hospitals, which is responsible for inmates' medical care.

Adams-Flores lays much of the blame on Patsy Yang, the senior vice president for Correctional Health Services for NYC Health & Hospitals. Yang refused to answer Adams-Flores' questions regarding an inmate who "had tested positive for Tuberculosis and potentially exposed people from April 6 to May 6, 2018," according to the lawsuit.

Her suit alleges that NYC Health + Hospitals failed to identify the sick inmate and notify DOC for three months. Adams-Flores had to seek information from the city's Health Department because Yang ignored her inquiries, according to the suit.

"They knew they dropped the ball," Adams-Flores' attorney, Rocco Avallone said, describing a "total breakdown" at the department.

Adams-Flores also says that just last month she declined to change data in her division, Health Affairs, to match that of NYC Health + Hospitals. DOC Chief of Staff Brenda Cooke had made the request "so that the Mayor's office will not ask any questions," according to the suit.

Lastly, Adams-Flores says that in September she filed a complaint with the Department of Investigation "to investigate if (Health + Hospitals) was conducting unauthorized research on inmates without the inmate('s) informed consent and the consent of the Commissioner."

"This is illegal," the suit notes.

Yang could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit, which names Commissioner Cynthia Brann and former DOC Chief of Staff Jeff Thamkittikasem as defendants, among others, comes over a year after former Commissioner Joseph Ponte was ousted from his post running the troubled agency.

Recent reports by federal monitors have documented the Department's struggles to address the physical and mental health needs of inmates.

Adams-Flores estimates that there are 80 administrators and managers in the Department of Correction. Black people are under-represented in the upper ranks of the agency with over 75% African-American employees, according to the suit.

"The few African-Americans who do hold supervisor positions have their authority circumvented, marginalized and usurped are denied promotions and the opportunity to move up in the ranks and/or are threatened with demotion if they fail to resign," the suit says.

Adams-Flores says in 2016 she was denied accommodations while pregnant that were granted to her white colleagues. In April of that year, the department's former top uniformed official, Martin Murphy, told Adams-Flores she could not have a correction officer act as her driver, though other white deputy commissioners enjoyed the privilege, the suit says.

In January 2018, Adams-Flores was to attend a National Organization of Black Law Enforcement conference in Orlando. But after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a white man was sent in her place, the suit says.

"We are reviewing the lawsuit, and will wait until all the facts are in. The Department of Correction strives to create an environment that offers equal opportunity to employees of all levels," a Law Department spokesman said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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