By ASHLEY HELMS
Finally ready to speak out, a local community activist alleges a community center aimed at helping disadvantaged residents may be harboring discriminatory practices.
Village of Mamaroneck resident and community activist Guisela Marroquin filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the village’s Community Action Program in its capacity within the Westchester Community Opportunity Program in April 2012. While the complaint was ongoing, Marroquin said she was still employed by the organization and didn’t feel safe going public with her case. She has since moved on to another agency.
Though she did not pursue a lawsuit due to the prospect of burdensome legal fees, Marroquin said she faced continuous ethnic discrimination during her four years as director of the organization, from 2009 to 2012.
The village’s Community Ac-tion Program, located at 134 Center Ave., is an extension of the Westchester County Community Opportunity Prog-ram, WestCOP, which has subsidiaries across the county based on the needs of each municipality’s residents. It is a non-profit social service agency operating programs to combat poverty and hunger in the county.
In her complaint, Marroquin said she was discriminated against based on her race, gender and national origin by the all-male African American Board of Directors during her time as director of the CAP center. Originally from Guatemala, Marr-oquin said she faced many road blocks when trying to improve opportunities for Spanish-speaking residents of the village.
She also claims she worked in a hostile work environment amongst supervisors, particularly Executive Director O’Dean Magnum. Many supervisors did not have training in the field of social work, she said.
“The majority of the people [who used the Community Action Program] were Latino, but the board felt that I wasn’t helping African Americans,” Marroquin said. “They thought I was choosing to only help one population.”
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Comm-ission is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against an employee based on race, gender, religion or national origin, among other criteria. If a complaint is filed with the agency, the EEOC can investigate the claim and the business or person it’s made against to find out if discrimination has occurred.
Marroquin said she was told by other Hispanic village residents that they felt shut out of the CAP center before she was hired as the Mamaroneck area director; none of the employees were bilingual and programs were not geared toward the Hispanic community, despite a significant portion of the village being of Hispanic heritage, she said. Marroquin was the first bilingual Spanish speaker at the CAP center, she said.
According to census data from 2010, Hispanic residents make up approximately 24 percent of the village population, while African Americans account for only 4 percent of village residents.
In one particular instance in August 2009, according to the complaint, while Marroquin was working as a childcare provider before being hired as the area director, she said she received complaints from the director of the Mamaroneck Child Development Center Denise Gilman about the daily presence of Latin childcare workers and Latin children in what Marroquin said Gilman referred to as “her space.”
Over time, Marroquin said the hostility escalated to the point where she was continuously reprimanded through memos and was reminded on a consistent basis that she could easily be fired. Marroquin said she filed the complaint with the state EEOC office in 2012, and during the EEOC investigation, she was treated better by her superiors.
“While the investigation is going on, they get a letter that someone is filing a complaint. They stopped harassing me then. After [the investigation] ended, I started getting memos,” she said.
Paulette Warren, director of human resources for the CAP center, said she could not comment on specific instances that Marroquin outlined in her complaint, but said Marroquin did not pursue legal action.
“The only thing I can say is we don’t discriminate against employees and we treat everyone with respect,” Warren said.
If the EEOC decides someone has the right to sue for discrimination, they will receive a right to sue letter. Marroquin said she did receive a right to sue letter, but did not chose to sue because she couldn’t afford a lawyer. The investigation concluded in early 2013, Marroquin said.
After being hired at another organization, Marroquin said she left her position as director of the CAP center in 2013. She said she doesn’t think the CAP Center or WestCop is handled in a way that’s beneficial to the community.
Marroquin said, “[The CAP center is] an example of [what] can go wrong with a nonprofit. I wanted it to be exposed as a learning tool to other nonprofits.
“My complaints came from knowing I was being deliberately treated in a way I thought was hostile and it was beyond a supervisor and an employee having a tense relationship.”