The Lincoln man filed his complaint with the city’s Commission on Human Rights in late 2016, alleging he was fired because of his age and Mexican-American origin.
Thursday, the commission agreed — voting to order a California-based company to pay Raul Alvarez nearly $175,000 in lost wages and damages.
“I feel good,” Alvarez said after the commission’s unanimous vote. “It just took a long time to get here.”
SBM Site Services contracted with Novartis, providing cleaning and maintenance services to the pharmaceutical plant east of Lincoln. Alvarez was hired in October 2014 as a custodial supervisor and was promoted to night supervisor six months later, according to commission documents.
He was experienced, according to the documents, with more than a decade in facility maintenance. He had an associate’s degree as an industrial electrician and a bachelor’s in business management.
Alvarez was also bilingual, and roughly half of SBM’s custodial staff spoke only Spanish.
But when he sought a promotion to site supervisor in June 2015, he was passed up, the job going to an inexperienced 33-year-old Caucasian who did not speak Spanish and had an associate’s degree in marketing.
In November 2015, Alvarez was suspended without pay, although he was not issued a written progressive discipline report beforehand, as was company policy, according to commission documents. And there was no record he’d been warned — verbally or in writing — before he was suspended.
The next month, the 65-year-old Alvarez was fired.
A representative for SBM Site Services could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
The Human Rights Commission, appointed by the mayor to investigate discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, fielded 67 complaints in 2016, though none made it as far as Alvarez’s.
Most cases are dismissed or withdrawn. Others are settled. In Alvarez’s case, though, two attempts at mediation failed.
So in May, the hearing officer — an employment attorney hired by the commission — listened to testimony and concluded SBM failed to promote Alvarez, unfairly disciplined him and fired him based on his national origin and partly due to his age.
The officer recommended the company pay Alvarez $98,472 in lost wages and $75,000 for emotional distress, and that it pay the city a civil penalty of $15,000 for violating laws prohibiting age and origin discrimination.
And after briefly closing its meeting Thursday for an executive session, the commission voted unanimously to accept the hearing officer’s findings.
“The money’s nice, but what means more to me is we won the case,” said Alvarez, who now works as an interpreter. “We were right.”
The company can appeal the commission’s decision in district court.