New York City cemetery workers file federal lawsuit against racism

The following media statement was released March 11 by the workers involved.

Four workers, activists in a campaign to eradicate racism at the famous Historical Landmark Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, recently filed a federal lawsuit against Woodlawn alleging serious civil rights violations by cemetery officials. The lawsuit names the president of the cemetery and numerous supervisors [for allegedly conducting] a pattern of systematic racism, fomenting hostilities and retaliation against those who spoke out.

The workers have been and continue to be supported by numerous community groups, including the South Bronx Community Congress. For years, supervisors at Woodlawn systematically discriminated against minority workers, and retaliated against workers — minority and Caucasian — who protested this unfair treatment.

The four plaintiffs are Alex Coss, Rick Coss, Todd Brown and Frank Russo. Their lawsuit describes an extremely hostile work environment at Woodlawn, where minority workers were expected to tolerate racist jokes and slurs. When these four workers spoke out on behalf of themselves and others, Woodlawn punished them by assigning them to difficult, dangerous jobs, resulting in severe injuries.

Speaking as a community supporter, [attorney] Ramon Jimenez said, “Finally after all these racial abuses we will be asking the federal courts for justice. We cannot tolerate those practices in our own backyard.”

Along with the lawsuit, the Band of Brothers [the activist group of Woodlawn workers] is asking for help from the community to form a committee in order to reform practices at Woodlawn in order to prevent future acts of discrimination and retaliation.”

In an email to Workers World, Rick Coss stated: “We ‘The Band of Brothers’ have taken on such a cause to maintain our dignity, demand our respect as human beings and in order to bring forth justice on an administration that perpetuates racism, discrimination and retaliation. We hope that the many who lay to rest will finally be at peace, no longer having to bear silent witness to the way their caretakers are treated.

“The Woodlawn Cemetery is a beautiful place to go visit and tour; the management, however, from the president on down, has deeply tarnished the legacy of the cemetery and has failed to recognize that the workers are just as much a part of the history that makes it a landmark.”

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