Citizen app hit with sex, race discrimination suit amid union battle

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Controversial public safety app Citizen is facing a discrimination suit from an ex-employee, even as it wages a knock-down, drag-out battle with union organizers.

In a suit filed this week, ex-Citizen analyst Heather Bearden accused the Peter Thiel-backed crime-watch app of fostering a hostile work environment where she was “verbally abused, ostracized and humiliated” by superiors based on her race and sexual orientation. 

Bearden’s superiors also passed her over for promotions and were quicker to write her up for infractions because she is black, Native American and gay, the Brooklyn resident alleged in the suit filed in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.  

“She was ostracized and humiliated,” Darnisha A. Lewis-Bonilla, an attorney for Bearden, told The Post. “This was a result of her race and sexual orientation.” 

Additionally, Bearden claims that users of Citizen — a public safety app that sends out alerts with images and videos of nearby fires, shootings and other emergencies — posted racist and homophobic terms like the word “f——t” on the app and called for violence “including the shooting of Black people.” 

When Bearden complained about the distributing content in January 2020 and asked the company to take a “zero tolerance” attitude toward the users who post it, Citizen failed address her concerns for months until eventually implementing a hate speech policy in June, according to the suit. 

Citizen app lawsuit
Former Citizen employee Heather Bearden says the company failed to crack down on hate speech.
United States District Court

Bearden — a Brooklyn resident who made a $64,000 salary at Citizen — says she eventually quit her job at in October 2020 because she was “unable to endure the discrimination and hostile work environment.” 

The company, which is headquartered in downtown Manhattan, has not yet filed a legal response to the suit, according to court records. 

Citizen chief of staff Emily Eckert told The Post that Citizen is “not in position to comment on particulars of ongoing litigation matters” but added that “creating a safe and diverse work environment is essential for us at Citizen.”

Bearden’s discrimination suit isn’t the only challenge facing Citizen, which has courted controversy and raised $133 million in venture capital since it was first founded as “Vigilante” in 2015. 

In September, a group of Citizen employees filed with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election — a move that The Post first reported was prompted by efforts to outsource some work to overseas contractors. 

The union is being organized through the Communications Workers of America, which also represents Verizon and AT&T employees. It would mostly cover employees of Citizens’ central operations division, which includes people who write alerts about emergencies based on 911 calls and user reports. 

Citizen has come out guns blazing against the organizing effort, blasting “meddling from an outside union” and tapping white-shoe law firm McDermott, Will & Emery to represent the company in conversations with the NLRB. 

Organizers have accused Citizen of trying to sabotage the union push, including through illegal “surveillance,” “threats,” and “interrogation” of employees, according to NLRB filings made by Communications Workers of America attorney Nick Hanlon. 

Citizen app lawsuit
Citizen’s office is located in downtown Manhattan.
Google Maps

Union election ballots were mailed to Citizen workers on Nov. 5 following a failed attempt by Citizen’s attorneys to delay the vote. Citizen had argued that holding the election through the mail would “disenfranchise” remote workers who could be traveling or working remotely from locations where they won’t be able to cast their votes.

The attorneys asked the NLRB to push back the election and said it should be conducted electronically — a prospect that Hanlon blasted as “a clear attempt to impede and delay the election through the filing of frivolous briefs and appeals” in a letter to the NLRB.

The NLRB ultimately rejected Citizen’s request to delay the election. Mail-in ballots were sent to employees last Friday and must be returned by Dec. 1, according to agency records. Votes will then be tallied by Dec. 17, records show.

Citizen app lawsuit
Citizen CEO Andrew Frame.
Steve Jennings

Citizen declined to comment on the union effort. Hanlon and the Communications Workers of America did not reply to requests for comment.

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