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Former driver sues school bus company

A former school bus driver in Rochester has sued the bus company, alleging it took no action when he was harassed and discriminated against by at least 14 employees.

Philip Bologna, 64, was hired by First Student Inc . in 2011 to drive a school bus in Anoka ; he transferred to the Rochester office in the summer of 2012.

In a civil lawsuit filed in August in U.S. District Court, Bologna claims he was "discriminated against and harassed because of his wife's race and skin color and was retaliated against by" First Student.

The case outlines three violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 : discrimination by association on account of race and color, harassment and retaliation; as well as four violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Ac t: discrimination by association on account of race and color, harassment, reprisal and marital status discrimination.

Bologna's wife is African American.


The behavior in question began almost immediately after Bologna started working in the Rochester office, where he drove school buses about 28 hours per week and spent 20 hours per week doing video security, which involves maintaining and archiving videos taken in the buses. His annual salary was about $42,000.

The lawsuit makes the following allegations:

Slurs and epithets

• In the autumn of 2012, Mike Pearce, an assistant manager for First Student, said he was "so dusty I looked just like a (n-word). Oh, I hope I didn't offend anyone, I meant to say neegra, oh, maybe that was offensive. I meant to say Negro."

The comments were made in front of Bologna and others, the court document says, and Bologna told Pearce he was offended by the remarks.

• While around Bologna at work, First Student employees used a racial epithet to describe President Barack Obama.

• Another employee, Bob Wolf, told Bologna he "didn't like blacks."

• Pat Malloy, a trainer for First Student, referred to Somali students as "the blue people," meant as a slur referring to the color of their skin. Bologna was present.


Work conditions

• When Bologna's bus was being repaired, he asked shop manager Larry Kramer what work was being done so he could file a report on the condition of the bus, per company policy. Kramer allegedly told Bologna "it was none of his business" and refused to describe the work.

Bologna informed a manager, Jon Goetz; the next day, Kramer again refused to provide a list of the repairs. Kramer kept the bus in the shop an "unreasonably long" time, the complaint says, "interfering with (Bologna's) work performance."

• Other workshop employees of First Student "cursed angrily at (Bologna) and sped through the vehicle lot as close to him as possible," making Bologna fear for his safety.

• In the summer of 2012, Leigh Baldwin, a dispatcher for the company, sped through the lot to block Bologna in, the suit claims. Baldwin wouldn't move his bus or give Bologna his keys so Bologna could move the bus, "completely refusing to cooperate" with him.

• In the spring of 2013, "Mark," a driver for First Student, told Bologna that "colored kids" give him the most trouble.

• In the fall of 2013, Bologna told Goetz about the incidents. Goetz reportedly called Bologna paranoid and didn't investigate the claims.

Harassment alleged


• About 3:30 a.m. one day in the winter of the 2013-14 school year, Bologna was with other bus drivers in the break room when one of the drivers mentioned a broken garage door that allowed "coons" to come in. Kenny Smith, another driver, allegedly said, "as long as it's not the two-legged kind."

When Bologna asked Smith what he meant by the comment, Smith said he was referring to "(n-words)." Bologna asked Smith not to use that word around him; Smith replied, "(expletive) you, and you're stupid," the court document says.

Bologna reported the incident to Goetz.

• In March 2014, employees Kevin Harbaugh, Dianne Pank and Monica Mata reportedly talked about running Bologna out of the company. They ended their conversation with the chant, "coon, coon, coon," which Bologna believed was referring to the garage door incident.

• The next morning, Bologna found a purple powder on his bus seat that left his trousers stained. Several days later, his bus headlights were turned on, causing the bus battery to die. Soon after, Bologna's bus key went missing.

A week later, Bologna received a phone call from an unidentified man, asking him if he wanted to worship Satan. Soon after, Harbaugh, a morning gatekeeper for First Student, denied Bologna entrance to the vehicle lot.

• Unnerved and afraid for his safety, the lawsuit says, Bologna spoke to supervisor RJ Oelshlager, who told Bologna he'd "brought these things on himself."

• On April 2, 2014, Bologna accidentally hit a parked car while pulling out of a parking lot, requiring his student passengers to transfer to another school bus. In the office later that day, shop manager Kramer "charged at (Bologna) with an extended arm," telling him to get out and not return until Goetz returned. Kramer hadn't followed company policy in suspending Bologna.


Discrimination by association

• In September 2014, Pank repeatedly "turned over pictures of Frederick Douglass and (Bologna's) wife" that were on Bologna's desk. When he complained to Oelshlager, Pank explained that she didn't want to look at the photos.

• In December 2014, Linda Bowar, a driver for First Student who started a coat drive for disadvantaged children, told some of the drivers — including Bologna — "let's hope the white kids get the coats," the complaint says. The comment was made "with her hand over her mouth as if to say it secretly."

• In October 2015, David Anderson, a First Student employee, told Bologna he'd been watching him, that Bologna had fooled everyone in the office except him. Anderson later allegedly told Bologna he would "kick his ass."

Job changes

• On May 10, 2016, Bologna again complained about the harassment, this time to Pearce, who approached Anderson.

The next day, a bus video — maintained and archived by Bologna as part of his job duties — captured Pearce telling Anderson (about Bologna), "I would just as soon give him (expletive) until he quits and leaves, but that's just me, and you didn't hear that from me."

• On May 16, 2016, Bologna showed Goetz the video. Goetz reportedly became angry at Bologna and told him he couldn't pull the video on another employee.


• On June 28, 2016, Goetz told Bologna he was no longer in charge of maintaining the videos, but he could continue to handle video formatting.

• On June 29, 2016, Kramer told Bologna the workshop was taking over all video formatting.

As a result, Bologna's duties were "significantly and substantially reduced," causing him to lose about a third of his work hours.

• On July 8, 2016, Bologna found his time card had been altered to reflect about 30 fewer minutes than he'd actually worked.

First Student response

The bus company, in its answer to the complaint, either completely denies the allegations or "is without sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations, and on that basis, denies the allegation."

It did, however, acknowledge Bologna "captured a video of Mike Pearce. That video speaks for itself as to its contents." The answer goes on to say First Student "denies each and every remaining allegation" in the description of the incident.

Seeking damages


Bologna is asking for damages in excess of $75,000 for each of the seven counts, citing "the loss of past and future income, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment." In addition, he's asking for reimbursement of attorney's fees and court costs.

The suit also asks that First Student be ordered to pay a civil penalty to the state of Minnesota and be required to adopt practices in conformity with the requirements of the federal unlawful employment practices and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Bologna has requested a jury trial. A pretrial conference has been set for Nov. 16 at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.

His attorney didn't return a call Friday seeking comment on the case.

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