City News

Salem employee sues the city for racist workplace harassment

A Salem city employee who claims he endured harassment from his supervisor because of his race has sued in U.S. District Court.

Jose Botello, a former fleet maintenance technician who is Latino, claims in the lawsuit that his supervisor, Michael Gandolfi, told him in September 2018 that he could be a coworker’s “bitch” in front of his coworkers.

On another occasion, the complaint said, Gandolfi read aloud a work order to Botello as if he couldn’t speak English.

Botello, a city employee since 2005 who worked in the human resources department, said Gandolfi made it a practice to whistle at him like a dog and scrutinized his work and bathroom breaks more closely than others.

The complaint said the city supervisor subjected Botello “to insults, embarrassment, and harassment both to him alone as well as before his co-workers.”

Last March, Botello took a job in the city’s water department that paid $11 less per hour to get away from the hostile work environment, the complaint alleges.

Botello is seeking around $20,000 in economic damages and at least $200,000 for “emotional distress, mental pain and anguish, embarrassment, loss of dignity, sleeplessness, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life.” The economic damages continue to accrue at a rate of $1,900 per month, the suit said.

Botello’s attorney, Micah Fargey, said in an email that the lawsuit follows a December finding by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries that there was substantial evidence that Botello was treated differently because of his race.

BOLI’s notice of substantial evidence determination dated Dec. 10, 2019, said human resources employees failed to follow up with Botello’s coworkers about the complaints and attributed Gandolfi’s behavior to personality differences.

BOLI hasn’t issued a punishment or fine against the city.

City attorney Dan Atchison said the city won’t comment on pending litigation.

At a meeting on Sept. 20, 2018, Botello told Gandolfi’s boss Jim Schmidt, human resources staffer Julie Killion and union representative Steve Hall about the alleged discrimination, according to the BOLI document.

Gandolfi wasn’t disciplined after the meeting but was given further training on “working with a variety of different personalities and utilizing various communication styles to encourage better working relationships,” the determination read.

Killion told BOLI investigator James Pappas she looked into the allegations and said Botello wasn’t being singled out, he was being “held accountable.”

Hall said Botello’s former coworkers backed up his claims and wondered why he was being singled out by Gandolfi. Neil Dozler, who worked in the same department as Botello, said Gandolfi would watch Botello’s every movement and put a sign-up sheet for people to use the bathroom.

“Killion admits she did not follow up and interview members of the crew,” the BOLI determination reads.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.