What to Know
- A Metro-North supervisor was promoted in 2014 despite employee complaints about a photo of him dressed in blackface
- The supervisor, Richard Ranallo, received five days of sensitivity training for the incident, but then went on to manage even more workers
- The message it seemed to send, the employees say, is that Ranallo is "untouchable," and the employees are instead punished for speaking up
The Metro-North supervisor at the center of a "blackface" controversy revealed in an exclusive I-Team investigation earlier this week has been pulled from service "indefinitely" pending an internal investigation, the I-Team has learned.
Richard Ranallo was asked to leave a Tarrytown facility Wednesday morning and told to hand in his identification and keys, sources told the I-Team. He was sent home and off the job, with pay.
An MTA spokesman told the I-Team Ranallo is "being withheld from service indefinitely while we assess our options."
The development comes a day after MTA chief Joe Lhota said he was "shocked" to learn of what he called an unacceptable "coverup" in the case of the supervisor, who was promoted to his position in 2014 even after several employees reported shocking photos of him in blackface.
The I-Team broke the story Tuesday about Ranallo, who was seen wearing blackface in photos snapped at a private Halloween party in October 2013 and posted on Facebook, according to the employees.
Randy Morgan, now retired from Metro-North, was one of five employees who complained about his one-time supervisor's photos to the railroad's diversity office. In the pictures, Ranallo is carrying what appears to be a railroad-style lantern and is wearing a jockey uniform "reminiscent of the black jockey that people used to put on their lawns," Morgan told the I-Team in his initial interview. "It's kind of like wearing a KKK outfit, just kind of screams at you."
On Thursday, after Ranallo was taken out of service, Morgan told the I-Team, "Richie being put out of service, all well and good, he deserves it, but you're still not addressing the real problem."
"I kind of feel bad for Richie -- he is what he is -- but those people that I mentioned enabled him," he said.
Morgan said he had complained about the photos, telling the assistant of Ranallo's superior about the pictures. The assistant told Morgan they were aware of the pictures.
Morgan, who worked at Grand Central, said he also complained to the railroad's Equal Employment and Diversity office. A former employee in that office confirmed that Morgan reported it, along with four other former employees.
In June 2014, eight months after the photos were posted, and after several complaints by employees, Ranallo was promoted to general supervisor, managing even more workers and keeping his pay of more than $200,000 a year.
The only repercussion Ranallo faced for the photos, according to Metro-North, was being ordered to take the photos down from Facebook, and getting enrolled in five days of sensitivity training.
Ranallo has refused to answer the I-Team's questions on the complaints from former employees. Tracked down recently near Metro-North's Tarrytown station, Ranallo avoided the crew, insisting, "I've got a train to catch," and driving off.
The I-Team report Tuesday prompted a swarm of backlash, with Lhota describing Metro-North's lack of action in the blackface case as "reprehensible" and said in no uncertain terms, "wearing blackface is racist."
MTA board member Polly Trottenberg said Thursday she was heartened by Ranallo's removal: "That was the right decision, and that was a good discussion yesterday," referring to the MTA board's conversation Wednesday over the I-Team report.
But Morgan said Thursday that the MTA is still giving Ranallo special treatment by continuing to pay him.
"That's not anything that was offered on my level when we were put out of service. So I don't understand why it's being given to him," he said.
Cathy Rinaldi, the new president of Metro-North, told the I-Team Tuesday she was "concerned" and "disturbed" by the pictures, which she said she only first saw a week ago.
Asked why Ranallo wasn't fired, and why he in fact was promoted after people complained, Rinaldi said, "This is five years ago. I really can't look back and second-guess the decisions that were made at this time."
Lhota said Wednesday that Rinaldi has ordered a complete review and investigation of the case, and will reinforce a no retaliation policy for workers who report such acts. Rinaldi will also emphasize training.
A day after speaking with the I-Team, Rinaldi sent a letter to Metro-North employees, dated June 19, reiterating that she only learned of the photo of Ranallo in blackface in the week prior.
"I want to be very clear that I find this type of conduct shocking and completely unacceptable," she said. "It is a betrayal of our core values of respect, honesty, and pride."
Rinaldi added that she was also "also very disturbed by comments reported in the news media about employees who feel that they cannot come forward and report incidents of discrimination or harassment because of fear of retaliation."
"I want to be very clear that employees have a right to report their concerns and that retaliation against anyone making such a report will not be tolerated," she wrote.
Rinaldi said she's asking the training department to assess current anti-discrimination training, as well as programs on promoting respect in the workplace and to return to her with recommendations within two weeks.