Dust still settling

Pub date March 27, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan

› sarah@sfbg.com

A racially charged lawsuit by a trio of Lennar Corp. employees accuses the developer of exploiting and endangering Bayview–Hunters Point residents. It also offers an inside look at how the company responded to an asbestos dust scandal first reported by the Guardian ("The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07) and raises questions about Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to give Lennar more control over the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard.

The suit was filed by three prominent African American community members — Clementine Clarke, Gary McIntyre, and Ceola Richardson — whom Lennar, a Florida-based megadeveloper, hired as liaisons to the community and its subcontractors. They are represented by attorney Angela Alioto, a former supervisor and mayoral candidate. The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination and harassment (mostly by local Lennar vice president Paul Menaker), retaliation for whistle-blowing, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiffs allege that Menaker, who is white, made disparaging comments about African American workers and community members. "Menaker frequently yells at Plaintiff and other African-American employees, but does not yell at non African-Americans," alleges the lawsuit, which also accuses Menaker of delaying payments to African American clients but not to those of other races.

The plaintiffs also claim that after Minister Christopher Muhammed of the Muhammed University of Islam, which sits adjacent to the Parcel A site where Lennar is working and was exposed to dust from the project, brought his students to Redevelopment Agency meetings and asked that construction cease until the school was permanently relocated, Menaker referred to him as a "shakedown artist."

Perhaps of greater concern to the public are the lawsuit’s allegations that Lennar executives ignored McIntyre’s warnings that Lennar subcontractor Gordon Ball was neglecting to control dust at the site and that Lennar employees were ordered to maintain a "code of silence" about subcontractor CH2M Hill’s failure to monitor asbestos, for which Lennar was cited by local and state officials. McIntyre claims that after blowing the whistle on Gordon Ball, he was demoted and denied further information on how the company was handling dust, even as he was expected to tell the community that Lennar was taking all the necessary steps to protect public health.

Lennar spokesperson Sam Singer told the Guardian the lawsuit contains "numerous false allegations" — then pointed the finger at McIntyre.

"Gary McIntyre was in charge of overseeing contracts," Singer told us. "It was on his watch when incidents of dust occurred, and members of the black community called up and complained and demanded that he be replaced. Were there some violations? Yes. Were they disastrous? No. People in the community didn’t want Gary in that position. Numerous dust mitigation workshops were held by Lennar and Arc Ecology, and in September we held a special meeting to discuss the violations."

Clarke, a Newsom-appointed fire commissioner and Lennar’s community benefits manager, told us she felt "stuck between a rock and a hard place" when Menaker told her and McIntyre not to mention the asbestos dust monitoring had been botched. By then, Clarke recalled, McIntyre had already been demoted for criticizing subcontractor Gordon Ball.

"Gary had been complaining to Paul Menaker that the leadership at Gordon Ball was not following the dust control policy," Clarke said. "Gary was constantly trying to get Gordon Ball to do what was right. After Gary was demoted, he was placed on Porta-Potty and Baker Tank duty."

"It was done to make me quit," McIntyre told us of his demotion. "Before that, I was told that I need to back off subcontractor Gordon Ball, then I was deliberately taken out of the loop."

The allegations cast a new light on Lennar’s claims to us that it volunteered the information about the faulty asbestos monitoring, suggesting the company might have been concerned about McIntyre blowing the whistle to city officials who were already asking questions about dust and asbestos levels.

The day after McIntyre’s Aug. 1, 2006, demotion, Menaker told Clarke and McIntyre the asbestos monitoring data could not be verified.

"I would have liked to see a report from CH2M Hill on what exactly happened," McIntyre told us. "First I heard it was record falsification, then human error, then a problem employee, then battery malfunction. I complained to my manager, Paul Menaker, but I never saw a report."

Clarke and McIntyre said Lennar’s code of silence left them in an awkward position within their community.

"When the community was asking, ‘What’s up with asbestos and dust?’ Gary was to go out and explain," Clarke told us. "So when Gary was taken off the project but his name was kept in the community as project manager, I said, ‘Y’all have cut this man’s testicles off by taking him off this site.’ "

"How can you go out and talk to the community about dust if you’re not in the loop?" McIntyre asked us. "But it wasn’t just a code of silence. It was also that we were blind and deaf, since we couldn’t see reports or attend meetings."

All three say they began to feel like Lennar was hurting their community.

"To me," McIntyre told us, "Minister Muhammed represents the African American community. When I looked his schoolkids in the eye, I thought these kids are thinking that I’m the one who is doing this to them."

Things came to a head for McIntyre at Newsom’s Feb. 10 town hall meeting in Bayview.

Observing that Lennar had been issued with notices of violation and that public health concerns had been raised, Newsom asked, "Is someone from Lennar here to secure my confidence?"

"I waited for Kofi [Bonner, president of Lennar Urban] and Paul to say something, but they didn’t even show up," McIntyre recalled. "So I took the mic, looked the minister in the eyes, and said, ‘We have carried out an investigation, placed additional monitors in the community. We’re trying to keep you and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency up to date.’ "

When someone in the town hall audience accused Lennar of "harming a community that’s already been harmed," McIntyre said. "We’re taking the most aggressive steps we could."

But inside he felt that he had been made into Lennar’s scapegoat. "I wouldn’t have taken this job if I’d known," McIntyre said.

Clarke agreed. "All you’ve got is your name. The corporation tried to take all that away. At least now I can sleep at night."

Six days after the meeting, Newsom proposed accelerating the transfer of the shipyard from the Navy to the city and Lennar in order to facilitate construction of a new stadium for the 49ers. Newsom’s spokespeople did not return calls for comment. *