The New York State Division of Human Rights has found sufficient evidence to order a hearing into a complaint of employment discrimination against the Democratic commissioner of the Niagara County Board of Elections.
The hearing is expected to take place later this year, and follows the release of a covert audio recording that appears to capture Commissioner Lora Allen, who is Black, making disparaging comments about minority workers at the board. The original complaint was filed by an employee of the board of elections.
“We are obviously thrilled that the Division of Human Rights has found probable cause in this case,” said Adam Grogan, an attorney with the labor and employment law firm Tully Rinckey. " Considering the audio recording of Commissioner Allen, any other decision by the division would have been shocking to the conscience.”
Grogan represents the board of elections employee who filed the complaint with the Division of Human Rights. He has declined to publicly identify his client.
A copy of the audio file was made available to the Gazette, in April, at the time the complaint was filed. The covert audio recording appears to capture Allen making disparaging comments about minority workers at the board.
The Gazette has not been able to independently verify that the voice heard in the recording is Allen. The elections commissioner has not publicly admitted that the recording is authentic, nor has she denied it.
Reached at her Lockport office in April, Allen told a Gazette reporter, "All I am going to say is it's an employee issue. And that's where I'm going to leave it. I have an employee who doesn't like me."
She declined to directly discuss the audio recording. Messages left for Allen on Friday seeking comment on the Division of Human Rights decision were not immediately returned.
The recording is one minute, 32 seconds long. The date of the recording was not released, but an unidentified voice makes reference to waiting for a decision "in December ... to get (what appears to be an election-related matter) extended," by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
That would suggest that that the recording was made late in the year 2020.
A voice that appears to be Allen says the delay puts her in a bind because of extra hiring that is involved in the matter. She then adds that she would not have "the two Black women in any more."
"And I'm like, I'm trying to put Black people in here. It was a mess. An awful mess," Allen says in the recording.
Allen then goes on to discuss a phone call she says she received in regard to the women she had referenced earlier.
"You just don't know what they doin' when you go home," Allen said she was told in the call. "They always talkin' and laughin' around once you leave."
After noting that she had made "accommodations" for the employees, the audio file concludes with Allen saying, "And I told my daughter I ain't never gonna hire no more Black people (garbled) as long as I live, they give me all kinds of problems."
Election commissioners are selected based on a recommendation of their political party's county chairperson and a vote of the party's county committee members. That selection is then approved by the county legislature.
In Niagara County a commissioner is appointed to a four-year term. Allen has worked for the board of elections for close to 19 years and has served as the Democratic commissioner since 2013.
Her current term is set to expire in 2022.
Grogan said his client is cooperating with the ongoing Division of Human Rights investigation.
"African Americans cannot discriminate against other African Americans simply because they both happen to be African American," the attorney said. "This is settled law and not up for debate."