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Hamburg lawmaker sought $140,000; Attempted to settle bias complaint

A Hamburg councilman asked for $140,000 to settle a discrimination complaint he filed against the town.

The discussion came during a settlement meeting with the New York Division of Human Rights. The division had found there was probable cause to believe the town discriminated against Councilman Joseph Collins after a town employee filed a complaint with the division.

Collins told The Buffalo News he withdrew his complaint before a hearing was conducted because he did not want to hurt the town. He said he retains the right to sue the town for three years.

Town Hall sources said that Collins asked for $70,000 for one charge and $70,000 for another at the settlement hearing.

Collins confirmed the discussion took place but said he was not looking for money.

"What I wanted was an apology, and [the Town Board majority] wouldn't give that," he said. "I gave a dollar amount because they wouldn't give an apology."

The Division of Human Rights does not award damages but could fine the town. Damages could be awarded to an individual in a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court.

The councilman, who is about to start his third year on the Town Board, said when the town filed charges against him saying he assisted an employee in filing a complaint, the town proved his case. He said he was legally obligated to refer the employee to the town's human resource officer.

"It was protected under federal and New York human rights laws," Collins said.

Supervisor Steven J. Walters, who often clashes with Collins, said the councilman should stop filing claims against the town and concentrate on working for the taxpayers.

"It's time that he move on and accept criticism when it comes and do his job, instead of looking for ways to file complaints or lawsuits," Walters said. "Perhaps if he did that the criticism would ebb."

But Collins, who will be in the minority come next Sunday, said the Town Board majority should not violate the law. He said he has taken action to bring questionable practices to light.

"It was the only voice taxpayers have," Collins said. "I will call them every time I think they're violating the law. I think that's my job."