A grievance was filed by a worker’s union against the assistant manager of Basin Transit Service, Paula Quinn, for racial discrimination against an employee.
The employee is BTS’s lead mechanic, James Barnes.
The grievance was submitted June 3, but the incident occurred on Dec. 3, 2018. Barnes alleges that Quinn said, “my n-----,” to him, told him to “get to the back of the bus where he belongs,” and referred to his work as “ghetto.”
Candice Shepherd, who works at the front desk at BTS, said she was present for several of the incidents. She said the behavior doesn’t stop there. She said Quinn regularly verbally abuses workers and creates a bad work environment.
Quinn denies that the incidents ever happened, saying she believed she had a good relationship with Shepherd and Barnes and she never said anything inappropriate.
“I have been wrongly accused,” she said. She is currently on medical leave due to high blood pressure. “I’ve never been in trouble before,” she said.
Barnes was surprised to hear Quinn deny the incidents occurred.
“To hear that come from a boss and to have her deny that she said it, that just floors me,” Barnes said.
According to BTS general manager Michael Stinson, the grievance came to light during an investigation into Quinn’s treatment of employees which was unrelated to Barnes. After Barnes’s grievance was filed, officials began investigating it by interviewing employees.
“We investigated it to determine whether the allegations were actually correct. We have determined that, and we’ll take appropriate action where we need to,” he said.
Stinson also recently announced his retirement.
“It has nothing to do with the investigation whatsoever,” Stinson said.
Shepherd said employees are frustrated with the situation.
“There’s a disaster going on. You feel like the place is going to cave in,” she said.
Crossing a line
A driver for BTS, Vince Hilgeman, said he was appalled when he heard that Quinn used a racial slur.
“I don’t understand how somebody can be in management speaking like that,” he said. “That’s a line that anybody can see it’s not okay to cross.”
He said he agreed with Shepherd that Quinn created a bad work environment. He said he avoided her actively at work due to her behavior.
Hilgeman said he is upset that Quinn has not yet been fired.
“Her lack of professionalism is astounding,” he said.
Barnes, like the other BTS employees interviewed by the Herald and News, said he is unhappy that Quinn is on medical leave and not suspended or fired.
“If we do something wrong, we are sent home and we are suspended,” he said, referring to employees who are not in management.
Barnes agreed that Quinn should be fired.
“My personal opinion is that she shouldn’t be there,” he said.
Todd Kellstrom, chairman of the board at BTS, said the situation is being handled according to procedure.
“Any speech that is hateful or inappropriate is not condoned,” he said. “We naturally take these things very seriously.”
The board of BTS will hold a public meeting on Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. in the District Conference Room at 1130 Adams St., in which the board will read a public letter of apology to Barnes.
“The purpose is that there was inappropriate language that we have determined was used and we believe we should apologize for the use of that language,” Stinson said. The letter of apology was his suggestion.
Barnes said he will not be attending the meeting.
“Personally I don’t think an apology from the board of directors is going to make a difference,” he said.
As a result of the investigation, BTS employees will be required to go through sensitivity training.
Barnes said he suspects the incident will affect his work life.
“Things are going to be different, but I’ll just deal with it like I always have,” he said.