NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) — An employee of the Niagara Falls Water Board has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the agency charging discrimination based on gender and race.
Kendra Walker, the board’s finance director since March of 2017 and one of few African Americans employed by the Water Board, says she was constantly second-guessed and undermined by the board’s former chairman Patrick Brown because she is a Black woman.
On Jan. 11, the Niagara Falls Water board voted 3-2 not to renew Walker’s contract when it expires on March 31. Board minutes show that Brown along with Board Members Nick Forester and Colleen Larkin approved this resolution.
“He was belligerent and belittling of me,” Walker said of Brown. “He would speak around me and speak to other employees who were usually white males. Even my subordinates he’d speak to but would never speak directly with me.”
She says in instances he did directly address her in emails, he was “hostile and demeaning.” Board minutes of the Jan. 11 meeting show Brown criticized Walker on the handling of the 2021 budget. Walker submitted social media screenshots of Brown debating racially charged topics including Black Lives Matter protests and liking posts from conservative outlets like Fox News.
Community groups in the Falls called for Brown’s removal back in January accusing him of racism. Brown resigned on Jan. 26 after denying those accusations. We reached out to Brown for comment regarding his time on the board and Ms. Walker’s charges and have yet to receive a response.
In a release sent to News 4, City Council Chairman Kenneth M. Tompkins said members of the council requested that Brown continue to stay through his term.
“It is important that the public understand, this was fully Mr. Brown’s decision. The majority of the City Council has continuously supported Mr. Brown’s dedication to serving the people of Niagara Falls in this capacity,” the statement read. “Despite our requests that he continue to stay through his term, his decision was final. From the moment he arrived (at the Water Board), Mr. Brown proved himself to be a fiscal watchdog, ready to apply his immense professional knowledge, skills, and passion to making sure everything was done was in the best interest of the city’s ratepayers.”
According to The Buffalo News, Tompkin credited Brown with reducing this year’s water rate increase from 5.5% to 2.99%.
“Pat did what we wanted him to do on the board. He was a strong fiscal watchdog,” Tompkins told the Buffalo News.
When asked about the decision to let Walker’s contract lapse, Sean Costello, the Water Board’s acting executive director, said “I cannot speak to any individual board member’s vote rationale or their interest in commenting on the decision. I can however confirm that from a staff management perspective, the NFWB has active protocols in place to ensure compliance with State and Federal employment regulations and non-discriminatory hiring practices are strictly adhered to.”
With Brown no longer on the board, a resolution has been introduced to have Walker’s contract renewed for another year, which the board will vote on Monday. If the votes don’t go her way, Walker’s last day will be March 31.
Walker says she hopes this time she will receive a fair vote. Other employees, including Forester’s niece, had their contracts renewed last year and approved without an evaluation, according to minutes from a January meeting.
“People just don’t speak up sometimes because they don’t want to lose their job. I don’t want to lose my job but to push me out, and to discriminate and be so blatant about it I’m not going to take that lying down.”
Kelly Khatib is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.