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May 16, 2023

Girls Inc. and its CEO sued over racial discrimination back in January 2022

PHOTO | Courtesy of Google Maps Girls Inc. of Worcester at 125 Providence Street

A former Girls Inc. of Worcester employee began a lawsuit against the organization and its CEO for discriminatory treatment in January 2022, more than a year before top leadership were placed on administrative leave amid program closures and a petition was launched claiming widespread racial discrimination at the nonprofit.

Gemelee DePasquale filed the civil lawsuit alleging discrimination based on her identity as a Black woman, after receiving a right to sue from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in October 2021, according to court documents.

Depasquale, the plaintiff. was hired as a business manager in 2018. The lawsuit alleges that "discriminatory and retaliatory treatment was an ongoing issue for Plaintiff since she was first hired by GIW on or about December 3, 2018,” according to the complaint filed in court. 

DePasquale’s suit, through which she is seeking declaratory, injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages from Girls Inc. of Worcester and CEO Victoria Waterman, claims a pattern of disparate treatment since she was hired to the leadership team in 2018, starting with an alleged unequal quantity of vacation time as compared to white counterparts on the team. 

The complaint alleges that Girls Inc. of Worcester: 

“ a. failed and/or refused to treat Plaintiff’s race and/or color in a neutral manner;
b. subjected Plaintiff to disparate treatment in the terms and conditions of her employment;
c. created, enforced, or allowed policies and practices that have disproportionately affected the terms, conditions, and benefits of employment with respect to Plaintiff and others in the protected class;
d. subjected Plaintiff to routine micro and macroaggressions and a hostile workplace because of her race and/or color;
e. treated Plaintiff and other Black colleagues as second-class and/or ‘token’ employees; and,
f. retaliated against Plaintiff for reporting disparate treatment in the workplace and asserting Plaintiff’s right to non-discriminatory treatment.”

The defendants denied all the above allegations, and the majority of allegations in the suit. The complaint alleges that Chief Operating Officer Allison James, hired in March 2019, ignored DePasquale and treated her differently than white colleagues. The defendants’ answer to the lawsuit denies these allegations as well, according to court documents.

Lawyers representing the defendants and plaintiff did not respond to WBJ requests for comment on Monday. Waterman and Girls Inc. of Worcester are both represented by the same team at Worcester-based Bowditch & Dewey, while DePasquale is represented by Sinapi Law Associates, an employment law firm in Warwick, Rhode Island.

DePasquale’s lawyer told MassLive the lawsuit remains unresolved. MassLive first reported the news of the lawsuit.

Similar complaints of microaggressions against staff of color are claimed in anonymous testimonies from former staff and Girls Inc. program participants in the petition

A letter signed by 31 members of staff past and present as well as participants and their families was sent on May 2 to the Girls Inc. of Worcester board of directors demanding for the removal of Waterman as CEO. The online petition has been signed by 154 people as of Monday.

The board of directors is conducting an investigation, according to an earlier statement from Board President Pamela Daly.

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