Durham City Council members awarded a $2.7 million contract to a security company to staff downtown parking decks, unaware of harassment and discrimination complaints against the company in other states.

Until this year, an outside management company, Republic Parking Systems, hired security for the parking decks. The city recently brought parking management in-house, and with the previous security contract, with NightHawk Security, expiring December 31, it sought proposals from companies to staff the decks with unarmed guards. 

The contract came before council members during a work session Thursday. Typically, the council doesn’t take action during work sessions, but it suspended the rules and voted unanimously to approve the contract with Allied Universal in order to more quickly get security guards in place.

According to media reports, however, the company’s past has not always aligned with the city’s professed progressive values. 

In 2017, current and former Allied employees working a New York airport filed a federal civil rights lawsuit saying employees were being pressured by their superiors for sex. The ordeal was captured in an episode of This American Life last May. (In response to the episode, Allied said these “isolated incidents are not indicative of our culture and work ethic,” and it has “zero tolerance against sexual harassment.” At the plaintiffs’ request, the case was later voluntarily dismissed without prejudice.)

In January 2018, the company paid $90,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit from a Muslim employee in California who sought a religious exemption to the company’s grooming standards and was fired.

Just last month, two Allied employees pleaded guilty to beating a black man at a Denver transit station, which employees had tried to cover up. Separately, video footage surfaced in December 2016 of an Allied guard beating a homeless man in Boston, after which employees relayed to the Boston Globe a culture of harassing homeless people.

Allied employees were also the first to engage Jazmine Headley while she waited with her baby for hours at a food stamp office in New York. According to The New York Times, Allied employees brought her “to the floor” before police officers arrested her, taking her baby out of her arms—as shown in a video that went viral—and taking her to jail.

After the vote, Mayor Steve Schewel told the INDY he was unaware of the lawsuits and allegations involving Allied and would ask staff to review the matter before the council’s next regular meeting.

“Now that we know, it’s all of our responsibility to look at it,” he said, adding that he believed his colleagues would have raised these issues had they been aware. “It’s our expectation that our administration will bring us contracts we want to approve and usually they do a good job. We’ll have to take a look at whether this one is an exception.”

Conversations at work sessions about prospective contracts typically center on workforce diversity and pay. Council members didn’t take issue with the racial breakdown of Allied’s local employees. The only question about the contract during Thursday’s work session, from council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, was to confirm that the company had agreed to pay a minimum wage equal to or greater than the city’s, which is $15 an hour.

Schewel said the contract didn’t raise red flags for him because the company’s workforce data “looks strong,” and it had agreed to pay what the city considers a living wage. Allied Universal’s proposal scored thirty-five points more than the company ranked second through a city review process, gaining many points for low cost. 

“We have certain mechanisms to make it really easy to test for things we care about,” Schewel said, like workforce diversity and adequate pay. “The other stuff you have to hear about.”

Formed in 2016 through a merger between Allied Barton and Universal Security Services of America, Allied Universal has more than two hundred thousand employees at forty-two thousand client sites, including Duke University.

“While we are unable to comment on pending litigation, Allied Universal is committed to equal and fair employment and maintains strict policies against discrimination and harassment,” a company spokesperson said in an email to the INDY.

Under the three-year contract, Allied would provide guards to staff five downtown parking decks 24/7: Chapel Hill Street, Church Street, Corcoran Street, Durham Centre, and the new Morgan Street deck.

This post has been updated to include a statement from Allied Universal.