City staff say they’re satisfied with answers provided by Allied Universal Security Services about past lawsuits and criminal cases involving the company, and are recommending the city proceed with hiring the company to provide security at five downtown parking decks as planned.

City Council members originally approved a $2.7 million contract with Allied at a January 24 meeting. However, after an INDY report called attention to the company’s involvement in sexual harassment and religious discrimination lawsuits, the transportation department sought more information related to the company’s responses to these incidents.

The five parking decks that will be protected by Allied Universal guards were previously overseen by a parking management company that hired another company to provide security guards. That security contract expired December 31. Because the city is bringing parking management in-house, it put out a request for proposals to replace the old security contractor. The city received six responses. Allied’s offer, the cheapest of the six, scored the highest, and City Council members approved the contract unanimously during a January 24 meeting.

City staffers and officials were unaware of the company’s alleged instances of harassment and discrimination when the City Council awarded the contract to Allied Universal. In an effort to clarify the company’s reactions to these suits, Thomas Leathers, Durham’s Chief Parking Administrator, sent a January 25 letter asking a series of questions, including seeking specific policy adjustments and managerial reforms. Most of all, according to the letter, the city sought to investigate how Allied might prevent and mitigate similar incidents in the future.

Five days later, Allied issued a response. Charles Bohnenberger, the company’s vice president of government services, provided commentary and clarification on the allegations that the INDY brought to light, saying that the company takes such “negative articles” very seriously.

On January 24, shortly after the council’s vote to approve the contract with Allied, the INDY reported on a religious discrimination suit, a sexual harassment suit and two criminal cases involving the company. The religious discrimination suit, which occurred in California, involved a Muslim guard who was fired after seeking religious accommodation from the company’s grooming policy. The case ended in a $90,000 settlement. Another incident — a sexual harassment claim levied by a former New York airport guard — alleged that supervisors were pressuring employees for sex. Earlier this year, two Allied guards pleaded guilty to assault in Denver, and in Boston, video footage captured a guard beating a homeless man in 2016.

The city asked seven questions regarding specific actions taken by the company to address these incidents. In response to the religious discrimination suit, Allied says it provided additional training to its supervisors and employees. The company said that this training was meant to distribute information regarding religious discrimination and “reasonable” accommodations to its grooming policies that supervisors could offer employees.

“While Allied Universal believes its treatment of [the plaintiff] was at all times appropriate and that our grooming standards are in full compliance with all laws, we nevertheless worked with the EEOC toward a constructive resolution of the matter,” Bohnenberger wrote to the city, noting that the EEOC had commended Allied’s response to the situation.

The company described additional actions including establishing an “Employees First” complaint hotline and terminating “bad actors.” In response to city questions about training tactics, Allied explained that it employs programs that cover topics such as de-escalation and appropriate response to workplace sexual harassment.

The transportation department found these responses satisfactory and released a February 4 memorandum recommending that the City Council authorize normal procession with the contract, which was set to take effect February 1. During its investigation, the office also sought verification of the company’s policy changes from seven local clients. Of these seven, the city only received contact from two — but these two clients, State Employees Credit Union and Norwich Realty Services, offered favorable reviews of their experiences with Allied.

“The company’s response was thorough and detailed,” Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said in a conversation with the INDY. “And their explanations were certainly plausible. Going forward, the city manager will monitor the contract very closely to make sure they’re meeting our expectations.”

According to the initial letter from the city, Schewel previously requested that staff provide an official update to the City Council at its February 4 meeting. Though no discussion took place – the report was submitted in written form instead – Schewel confirmed that the city plans to move forward with the contract.

The City Manager’s office also confirmed to the INDY that Allied Universal has agreed to pay employees a livable wage of more than $15 per hour, and that the contract seeks to employ nineteen full-time security guards and one account manager. In its memorandum, staff stated that Allied hired all five of the employees previously contracted at the downtown garages who applied to work with the new contractor.

“You know, they employ two hundred thousand people,” Schewel said. “When you employ two hundred thousand people, sometimes these things happen. And we have to make sure that they’re not happening here in Durham.”

Read the correspondence between the company and the city below:

Allied Universal Inquiry Up… by on Scribd