Downtown Brooklyn municipal workers rally against boss over alleged ‘toxic’ work environment

toxic work environment
Latoya Richardson and fellow workers rally outside the Kings County Public Administrator’s office at 360 Adams St. on Jan. 14.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Staff of the Kings County Public Administrator are calling on their boss, Richard Buckheit, to resign, claiming the municipal honcho has created a toxic work environment of discrimination and bullying during his five-year tenure atop the agency.

“I have seen him discriminate, harass, and retaliate, and today we stand together to say, ‘No more.’ Buckheit, you have to go,” said Latoya Richardson, an office administrator at the small agency, which handles estates of Brooklynites who die without a will, testament, or family.

Richardson, along with several of her fellow employees and union leaders, rallied outside the Administrator’s Adams Street offices on Jan. 14, accusing their boss of allegedly presiding over internal drama and harassment since his appointment in 2015.

“It’s a toxic working environment,” said Richardson. “If you report anything that you see whether it’s directly happening to you or someone else, you’re immediately unofficially demoted meaning the things that you was doing is taken away from you, you’re no longer doing it.”

The public servant sued Buckheit in Manhattan Federal court for Human Rights violations, alleging that Buckheit stripped her of professional responsibilities and invaded her physical space by standing ominously closely to her. A Federal judge, however, dismissed the complaints in September, according to legal filings.

In 2018, the Department of Investigations accused KCPA case manager Fitzroy Thompson of stealing debit and credit card info from recently-deceased New Yorkers to fuel a $78,000 spending spree, which included a cruise and a vacation to the Bahamas.

Thompson pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny in early 2019 and had to spend two months behind bars, before getting five years probation and having to pay back the full sum of stolen funds within that time. 

The office’s bookkeeper said that during that investigation, Buckheit allegedly tried to tie her in as an accomplice to the criminal, with DOI agents showing up at her door in the early hours of the morning to question her.

“They showed up to my house at 6:30 in the morning, embarrassed me with the neighbors,” said Yarittzi Estevez. “I was singled out of everybody, and I got interrogated, I had to go to the DA’s office, basically he was trying to get me involved with that.”

Ever since, the offices have been sprinkled with surveillance cameras keeping a close eye on employees, according to Estevez. 

“They watch us when we take breaks, they watch us when we come in, they watch us when we leave,” she said.

When Brooklyn Paper reached out to the Public Administrator’s office, an employee advised this reporter to contact Buckheit directly via email, before alleging on condition of anonymity that they also had experienced a toxic work environment under the boss.

“It’s been a tumultuous and toxic working environment for almost six years,” the employee said.

The worker said that the office and its 13 employees — most of whom are people of color — have been dealing with thousands of cases around the borough amid the pandemic while Buckheit was being condescending and bullying toward them.

“There’s been various incidences where we’ve been told to get a real job,” the employee said. “People being indirectly forced to resign due to medical issues.”

According to KCPA’s website, the office currently works at half-capacity, following COVID-19 edicts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But when employees requested computer equipment to work remotely, Buckheit allegedly declined, telling them they should use their children’s computers instead, the employee said, adding that many staffers have quit during his time in office.

“COVID was used against the staff,” the employee said.

Buckheit did not respond to a request for comment by press time.