June 4, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
New York, NY – Former traffic enforcement agent Shakia Yelder’s wrongful-termination lawsuit languished in limbo for four years after the city refused to give her the back pay it had agreed to in 2011.
Yelder lost her job in 2010 when the city laid off its provisional traffic agents. There was one thing wrong: She was actually a permanent employee who had passed a civil-service test to get the job. But when she went to police headquarters to correct the error, she told The Chief newspaper, they told her there was “no record of me being an employee with a test number.”
Yelder, who had been out on workers’ compensation while recovering from injuries sustained in a car crash, filed a lawsuit to get her job back. She won a settlement and, after 17 months, reinstatement. But the city refused to give her the back pay it had agreed to in the settlement, because its lawyers said her workers-compensation payments should be deducted from it.
“After reinstating her, they refused to abide by the terms of the settlement agreement—which they themselves drafted—and have failed to pay her a nickel of back pay,” Local 1182 lawyer Daniel Bright wrote in papers filed with the court last October. There was no language in the agreement that said her workers-compensation payments should be deducted, he told LaborPress.
“I think the city believed she could keep getting workers’ compensation, and they kept holding that up as a reason not to pay her,” he says.
Bright, who had worked on the original case, was rehired by Local 1182 in the summer of 2015, when newly elected President Syed Rahim replaced the law firm the previous administration had switched to. He was surprised to find the case file on his desk. Almost no work had been done on it for the previous three years, he says.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that this case, which I thought was pretty straightforward, could sit for years,” he says.
Bright contacted the city Corporation Counsel’s office to see if they were willing to settle the case. When they didn't respond, he filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to grant Yelder back pay and interest without a trial. The city then agreed to settle.
The new settlement will give Yelder slightly more than $30,000—about $20,500 in back pay after her unemployment benefits are deducted, and $9,700 in interest—but she will have to pay taxes and pension contributions on the back pay. She had to drop out of City University while she was unemployed, but eventually finished her bachelor’s degree, she told The Chief. She now works as a child protection specialist for the city Administration for Children’s Services.
“Since I have taken office, I have sought to aggressively represent our members, in this case as well as in other cases, such as disciplinary cases,” says Rahim. “The NYPD and the Sanitation Department haven't been taking the union seriously, but we are trying to change that by showing them that the union will fight for our members and provide whatever help they need to protect their rights.”