New York State Agency Sued for Racial Discrimination

An investigator with New York’s Division of Licensing Services (DLS) is suing the agency for discriminating against him because he is of Chinese origin and retaliating against him after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Zihan Shi began working for DLS in 2007 as a Licensing Investigator 1, a job he still holds, according to the complaint. Contrary to agency policy, Shi rarely received formal performance reviews, but claims he “consistently received overwhelmingly positive feedback.”

Shi claims that during the ten years he worked for DLS there were never any Chinese or senior investigators, although there are several investigators of Chinese descent.

In September 2016 Shi applied for two promotions to License Investigator 2, or Senior Investigator, at two different DLS offices. Shi says he scored well on the qualifying exam, but one position was given to a caucasian applicant who had only worked for the agency for five years on a part-time basis.

Shi claims that, had he not been qualified for the position he would have received notification stating so, which he did not.

Shi says he “made various attempts to try to learn even one non-discriminatory reason that he was passed over in favor of [the Caucasian investigator], and no one at DLS could offer him even one reason or justification, but instead only solidified the widely-known (and little discussed) reality of discrimination against East Asians at DLS, which is insidious and subversive yet nonetheless plainly revealed in the actions the DLS takes vis-a-vis its employment decisions,” the complaint states.

Having decided that DLS would do nothing to cure its discriminatory practices, Shi filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Within weeks he began to suffer retaliation, according to the complaint, “which was evidenced by the drastic change in the way he was treated after the filing as compared with the approximately ten-year period that preceded the filing.”

For instance, Shi received two counseling memos that contained false statements and charges, according to the complaint. His supervisor, who was still in his probationary phase, was being coerced to “take care of the situation” by pressuring Shi to sign the misleading memos, or he himself would lose his job, the complaint states.

Shi is represented by Alexis Scott Berkowitz of New York City who filed the action in the Southern District of New York.