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May 10—The crux of a state investigation into a complaint filed against the Niagara County Democratic election commissioner by an elections clerk comes down to one question, according to attorneys involved in the case: Can a Black woman make a racist comment against another Black woman?
Nakesha M. Bradley, 34, who is Black, contends in a filing with the state Division of Human Rights that she was harassed and bullied over a period of several months by Commissioner Lora A. Allen, 65, who is also Black.
Bradley surreptitiously recorded a conversation with Allen in which the commissioner says, “I am never going to hire no more Black people, never again, as long as I live. They give me all kinds of problems.”
Although the human rights complaint was filed Feb. 11, the matter didn’t become public until last week, when the Tully Rinckey law firm, which represents Bradley, sent reporters the 7-second soundbite.
“They say it’s racial discrimination, and Lora is a Black woman,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said. “Is that possible, for a Black woman to discriminate against a Black person like that?”
“It’s hard not to draw the connection that it was related to my client’s race, when you have such a damning statement like that,” said Adam Grogan, Bradley’s lawyer. “I reject the notion that African American people can’t be discriminatory against other African American people. The statement speaks for itself.”
Joerg said an outside attorney, James Rooney, questioned those involved in the situation.
“He didn’t find it appropriate to do anything in regard to Lora Allen when he completed his investigation, and Bradley still has her employment with the county,” Joerg said.
The Division of Human Rights has the authority to hold a trial-like hearing and award monetary damages, but its findings can be challenged in court.
“If need be we’ll go to a court of law and let a jury make a decision on whether Lora Allen discriminated against this woman. I don’t think they’re going to find that she did,” Joerg said.
“This is an extremely egregious comment that is completely unlawful,” Grogan said.
His firm released Bradley’s 15-page statement, which said the alleged trouble started when Bradley, a single mother, found she had a child care problem because the Covid-19 pandemic would force her children to attend school virtually three days a week.
The statement said Bradley asked Allen about her situation. Allen, who has worked at the election office since 2002 and became commissioner in 2013, allegedly said the county hadn’t issued any guidance. However, a colleague told Bradley there had been an email about the matter months earlier.
Bradley wrote that she went to the county Human Resources office, which is in the same building as the election office, to ask about her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The next day, Allen allegedly threatened to fire Bradley “because I went over her head multiple times,” Bradley’s statement said. “Every day for the next week, Mrs. Allen called me into her office at least 4 times a day to tell me how I went over her head and she was not comfortable working with me any longer.”
In one of these conversations, Allen allegedly told Bradley that the Republican commissioner, Jennifer M. Sandonato, thought Bradley should be fired. According to the statement, Sandonato denied that.
The statement reports numerous meetings between Bradley and Human Resources Director Peter P. Lopes over the family leave issue and Allen’s conduct. After learning of one of them, “Mrs. Allen told me she would never hire another Black person again,” Bradley wrote.
“No one knew at this point I was recording every conversation because I knew I had to protect myself because of the things she was saying and doing, plus I saw how my complaints of harassment and bullying were getting ignored,” Bradley wrote.
The statement said trouble flared again in January, when Allen asked Bradley to “do payroll,” so she emailed copies of the county’s new timesheets to everyone in the election office.
Bradley wrote that Allen threatened to fire her a few days later for emailing the timesheets without permission.
A county spokesman said Allen was instructed not to comment because of the possible litigation.
The Democratic and Republican parties choose the commissioners, whose appointments are rubber-stamped by the county Legislature. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is the only person with the power to remove them during their two-year terms.
County Democratic Chairman John O. Jacoby Jr. said he has no plans to replace Allen.
“Nothing in her behavior over the years or right now indicates there is any problem,” Jacoby said. “She has my complete and utter faith.”
Allen hired Bradley on her own without a party recommendation, said Jason A. Zona, who was Democratic chairman in 2019.