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Former human rights commissioner threatens lawsuit

COURTESY PHOTO: NOHATEZONE.COM - Sam Sachs, a former city human rights commissioner, has threatened to sue over discipline he received as a city park ranger.A city park ranger found himself accused of racial discrimination after reporting an African American supervisor for a hiring violation, according to a lawsuit threat filed recently with the city of Portland.

Sam Sachs, a former member of the city Human Rights Commission, has notified the city of a potential lawsuit after receiving a two-day unpaid suspension for alleged discrimination.

Sachs is a onetime Black Studies major and a long-time diversity activist. In 2009, he persuaded Rep. Mitch Greenlick to sponsor successful legislation intended to promote diversity among head collegiate coaches and athletic directors. Most recently, he successfully lobbied to change the city of Portland’s hiring practices to make it mandatory to interview at least one minority, woman or disabled candidate for every supervisory job.

In January, the Portland City Council adopted the rule as well as Sachs’ idea of naming it for Charles Jordan, the African-American former city commissioner.

Sachs declined to comment on the lawsuit notice he filed against the city, as well as a similar complaint filed with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.

In them, Sachs claims he was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on his then-supervisor, Hasan Artharee. Sachs claims he reported Artharee for adding a candidate to a hiring pool for a ranger’s job, though the person was not on the hiring list.

Artharee then accused Sachs of harassing him because he is African-American, according to Sachs’ complaint.

Sachs claims Artharee was demoted last August. Meanwhile, the complaint against Sachs proceeded, eventually leading him to be disciplined.

Artharee declined to comment.

Mark Ross, a spokesman for Portland Parks & Recreation, said the agency “does not comment on potential litigation nor personnel matters.”

Sachs helped lead a unionization drive of the park rangers in 2012 and 2013 in a bid to boost their $11-an-hour pay. In 2014, when his manager wanted rangers to confront people having issues in parks, and engage in traffic control, Sachs filed complaints with Oregon OSHA to require more training.

According to Sachs’ notice to the city, one of the managers who joined in accusing him of discrimination was the same one that Sachs had challenged in the unionization and OSHA matters.

Sachs, who is Jewish, has filed at least five discrimination complaints in the past, records show. In 1996, while a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy, he filed a complaint against the state’s police academy, saying three senior officers had harassed him with anti-Semitic remarks. An investigation upheld his complaint and Sachs won a $50,000 settlement.

In 2005, Sachs filed a complaint against Multnomah County after being let go from his job as a counselor for the Department of Community Justice. He said he was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on unsafe conditions and other issues.

In 2006, after failing to make probation as a Portland General Electric meter reader, Sachs sued in federal court saying he was retaliated against for opposing discrimination there. The company called the claim “frivolous,” then settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Former coworkers are split on Sachs. One, Anthony Williams, says Sachs harassed him for things like taking breaks or eating meals before a shift, and says it seemed like such behavior was reserved for African-American coworkers like Williams. Sachs “came off as an overseer and not as a peer,” Williams adds.

Another African-American former coworker in the rangers, Jonathan Wilkins, says the unit became polarized because of the tension between Sachs and Artharee and some of the African-American workers Artharee hired. But Wilkins, who is African-American, says that rift stemmed from personalities, not race.

“There’s never been an issue that I’ve seen that Sam has been biased or shown any kind of prejudice toward blacks,” Wilkins says. “Sam does things the right way.”

Other associates of Sachs expressed surprise to hear that he’d been accused of having issues with African-Americans.

The allegation is ludicrous, says his longtime friend Siji Obi. Obi says he still remembers the day Sachs first approached him to chat, having recognized him as a neighbor of Sachs’ girlfriend.

“I’m a black guy. He literally walked up to me in the supermarket one day,” Obi said. “He’s a good man and a good friend ... for someone to make a claim like that is just totally ridiculous in my opinion.”

Pastor Matt Hennessee, who is African-American, worked with Sachs for three years in a group called Connected, which reaches out to disaffected youth in Holladay Park to discourage gang activity.

“Connected is a group that is majority African American,” Hennessee said, adding that if Sachs had problems with black people, “We’d know it pretty instantaneously. I just don’t see that in him.”