KCK utility’s worker residency probes cost nearly $400K, raise discrimination concerns
- Aug 17, 2022 4:24 pm GMT
Over the past decade, the
But in only five cases since 2015 has the public utility found that an employee was violating the rule, records obtained by The Star show.
The use of private investigators by Wyandotte County’s electrical and water utility came to light last year through a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by BPU employee
The BPU has defended its use of private investigators, arguing it’s the best way to enforce the rule that all of its nearly 500 employees live in
But the records show the utility has spent far more than that over the past decade. Averaged out over 10 years, the BPU is spending closer to
The BPU is an administrative arm of the Unified Government of
In court documents, Owens’ attorneys said the BPUs own data shows the agency disproportionately investigates employees of color.
The data shows that since 2015, the BPU has investigated 27 employees for potential residency violations. More than half of those investigated have been employees of color: nine are Black, four are Asian and two are Hispanic.
“Is that really the best use of that money?” McKain asked. “It frankly seems like a waste of money and makes me question why they’re doing it and why it costs so much.”
“Management cannot look the other way and it is better to have an outside trained investigator with the proper equipment perform this function than to send untrained employees out in potentially dangerous situations to be investigators,” he said in an email.
Allegations of racial discrimination
Owens is among four Black BPU employees who filed federal lawsuits against the Unified Government in recent years, saying they faced racial discrimination from colleagues, hostile work environments created by supervisors or targeted investigations.
Owens, who was hired by the company in
According to his lawsuit, Owens was called into a meeting with the company’s human resource department in
The human resource manager he met with told Owens she found it difficult to believe he lived in the residence she labeled a “shack” but which he identified as his home.
In addition to his home, Owens owned 13 investment properties in
The BPU employed a private investigator to investigate Owens 11 times from August30 to
He submitted paperwork to BPU’s human resources department to prove he was following the residency requirement. He was.
Owens was not disciplined.
Ultimately, the human resources manager who accused Owens of living in
Others cities’ residency checks
The BPU residency requirement has been a policy since 1998.
Every employee must sign a residency certification saying they understand the provision and will be “immediately terminated” if they violate it.
Other large cities in
Topeka’s more than 1,100 city employees are required to live in
“We periodically run a check of addresses and then work with the departments and the employees for any clarification needed,” said
Across state lines, in
“In my 7 years here, I’m not aware of any time that the city has done anything like this,” said
©2022 The Kansas City Star. Visit kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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