The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is probing discrimination in Upland Borough, The Spirit has learned, based on a complaint filed by former Upland Police Chief Nelson Ocasio, the county’s first Latino police chief who was “suspended indefinitely” then terminated months after a public blow-up with Borough Council President Christine Peterson, who was also the police department secretary.
The EEOC action, the paper has learned, invokes “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” which renders discrimination against employees “on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion” as federally unlawful.
EEOC Outreach and Education Coordinator Mary Tiernan would neither confirm nor deny the action, saying, “Charges of discrimination are confidential so EEOC employees cannot tell third parties, including the press, whether or not a charge has been filed against any employer, whether a public or private employer.”
Ocasio also declined to comment, but sources familiar with Upland Borough government claim that Ocasio encountered vitriol because of his race.
The same sources, who also requested anonymity, also allege that racism is among the reasons for Ocasio’s suspension and eventual termination.
According to the source, when Peterson, who was police secretary and just a member of Borough Council, learned that Ocasio, then the deputy police chief, would succeed then-Upland Police Chief John Easton, the borough’s first African-American police chief, she said, “First a nigger and now a spic?’”
Former Chester Police Commissioner Joseph Bail said he was sitting in a local restaurant and overheard the conversation and the remark.
She said it, Bail said, “and it didn’t sit right with me, so I just moved to a different table.”
“I would never say such things,” said Peterson in response and declined to comment further.
Upland Mayor Michael Ciach confirmed that the borough was notified of the EEOC charge but declined any further comment, Ciach said, “We forwarded everything to our attorneys and it will be handled as everything else in the borough, which is properly.”
As of Dec. 12, according to eeoc.gov., the current status of the complaint is in the mediation phase. In other words, the EEOC will assign a “neutral mediator” in an attempt to allow Ocasio and Upland Borough to reach a mutually agreed upon resolution and, if successful, the charge will be dropped and the case closed.
If unresolved at that level, the charge can be given to an investigator for further probing. Additionally, findings, or lack thereof, can result in four initial outcomes.
If evidence from the investigation reveals the borough did not violate any discrimination laws, then a “Notice of the Right to Sue” will be issued, resulting in the EEOC closing the charge and relinquishing control of the case; this also allows Ocasio to sue Upland Borough in court.
The second option is a straightforward issuance of the Notice of the Right to Sue and, again, ultimately closing the charge.
In the third option, the charge can also be closed, only if “a settlement is reached” by both parties or if the charge is withdrawn.
For the final option, if the EEOC, through an investigation, determines Upland Borough is in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC will push for Ocasio and the borough to resolve the charge through “conciliation efforts” and if these efforts are successful, the charge will be closed.
The federal commission’s website did not explain what actions will be taken if a “conciliation agreement” is not reached.
Last February, reports of Ocasio arresting Peterson at Borough Hall on charges of forging his signature on another police officer’s vacation time card surfaced. However, the charges against the council president were dropped and Ocasio was suspended.
However, according November 2016 meeting minutes, Borough Council held an executive session to finalize the decision to “terminate a full time member of the Police Department based on the investigation results and recommendation of the Public Safety Committee,” the minutes read.
Resuming the public meeting, Council approved the decision, with two abstentions from Council President Christine Peterson and Councilman Ed Mitchell.