Aug 23


Former OTB employee alleges discrimination

Security officer alleges maltreatment because of her race and medical condition. The EEOC is investigating. OTB officials dispute her claim.

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The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating discrimination claims made against the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. after a former employee said she was the victim of “racism and humiliation and discrimination.”

Tonya Stewart-Gray, who worked as a security officer at the Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel from January through April, has alleged her former coworkers and supervisors routinely harassed her, belittled her and denied her request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, causing her to develop sciatic nerve damage.

Stewart-Gray said that when she brought her concerns to CEO Henry Wojtaszek, he told her he sided with her supervisors. 

“They caused me damage,” Stewart-Gray, 61, told Investigative Post. “They were pushing me too hard and they didn’t have to. They didn’t try to accommodate me at all.”

Among other disparaging comments, Stewart-Gray said a coworker called her “colored girl” and used other “racial slurs.” She said she was “the only Black security” officer working at Batavia Downs during her time employed there.

“Out of the 60 years of my life, I have never ever experienced so much hatred, so much disrespect, so much retaliation, anger, just unprofessionalism,” Stewart-Gray said. 

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The EEOC is investigating Stewart-Gray’s claims, though it has yet to determine if there is probable cause to justify legal action against OTB, according to records reviewed by Investigative Post.

Victor Chen, a spokesperson for the EEOC, declined to comment saying all “possible charges (complaints) made to the EEOC are strictly confidential.”

In a statement, OTB Human Resources Director Danielle Fleming said the agency handled Stewart-Gray’s employment and termination legally.

“I am aware of the matter regarding Ms. Stewart-Gray and believe that her termination during her probationary period was handled properly and appropriately,” Fleming said. “This is a personnel matter so we will not make any further comments at this time. We intend to answer any and all inquiries from agencies involved with transparency and honesty.”

According to Stewart-Gray, the mistreatment she experienced began shortly after she began her job in January. One of her new coworkers, she said, appeared to recognize her and asked her if her husband was Kenneth Gray. She said she was surprised the person knew her late husband, who died in 2021. The person worked as a housekeeper at the Veterans Administration hospital in Batavia, where Kenneth Gray was hospitalized at one point. The person made disparaging remarks about her husband, Stewart-Gray said.

Stewart-Gray, who said she’s been in counseling to cope with her husband’s death, said she was “definitely disturbed” by the comment and felt it violated her husband’s rights under HIPPA. She reported the incident to OTB’s human resources department and to the Veterans Administration.

In a June 14 letter, VA Western New York Healthcare System Executive Director Michael Swartz wrote to Stewart-Gray that the comment amounted to a privacy violation.

“I am working with the housekeeping staff to remediate this issue and provide education to the employee involved,” Swartz wrote. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

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Another incident at the casino occurred while she was sitting at one of the front podiums where security officers check the ID of patrons. Stewart-Gray said. A coworker flashed a switchblade knife at her, making her uncomfortable, she said, as security officers aren’t permitted to carry weapons. She reported the incident to a supervisor.

“After that,” Stewart-Gray said, “oh my God, that’s when all hell broke loose.”

The employee she reported later used “racial slurs” against her and called her “colored girl,” Stewart-Gray said.

If she left her podium to use the restroom, a supervisor would yell at her, she said. She said her supervisors began writing her up. She claimed her coworkers and supervisors changed the schedule without her knowledge so she would get in more trouble.

Stewart-Gray said she soon began having health issues — swollen legs and lower back pain — and was refused accommodations. During one shift, she was required to patrol the casino floor for several hours — called “rovering” — but grew tired. She said she stopped and stood, attempting to rest.

“Hey, when I say rover, rover!” she said a supervisor yelled at her.

Stewart-Gray said she was made to patrol for longer than other employees, which she felt was done to retaliate against her.

Eventually, Stewart-Gray said, she took her concerns to Wojtaszek. He declined to take her side, she said.

“Tonya, I’ve known these guys for a very long time,” Stewart-Gray said Wojtaszek told her, referring to her supervisors. “They have been good to me. If it came down to it, I will take their word over yours.” 

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Stewart-Gray said she was in the process of collecting and submitting medical paperwork to OTB for a formal medical accommodation when she was fired. Wojtaszek signed her termination letter April 21. OTB then issued a second letter, banning her from the Batavia Downs grounds for two months.

“I’ve never experienced so much hatred, so much retaliation. It was clear they didn’t want me there,” she said. “They’re gonna respect me, they’re gonna respect my human rights. And the remedy is to get justice from them violating my human rights, my civil rights.”

The EEOC probe comes as OTB has come under increased scrutiny from state and local authorities. 

In 2021, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office determined that the agency purchasing health insurance for board members was “impermissible.” The comptroller also found fault with the manner in which OTB distributed tickets to concerts and sporting events.

Last year, Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick sent OTB two letters demanding answers on the agency’s spending and investments. 

In May, state Sen. Tim Kennedy won language in the state budget that fired the OTB board and reapportioned the balance of power on the new board away from less-populated, Republican-controlled counties and toward more-populated, Democratic-controlled counties. In response, several Republican-led counties have hired former New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a Republican, to sue the state over the shake-up.

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