The MBTA fired a top-level manager last week for not taking action against an employee who wore a noose to work as part of a Halloween costume in 2006.
The fired manager, Bob Stoetzel, called it an "extreme reaction to an incident that was a year and a half ago." Stoetzel said he asked a supervisor and employees in his department at the time whether the costume posed a problem and was told no.
A spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Joe Pesaturo, declined to address the reasons for Stoetzel's departure, citing a policy against discussing personnel.
Stoetzel read a copy of his three-page termination letter to a Globe reporter. The March 5 letter said Stoetzel should have known that the noose could be perceived as racially insensitive and taken action.
Stoetzel, 55, worked as the chief transportation officer on the commuter rail line, a high-ranking position in suburban rail operations. He had been in charge of supervising the MBTA's contract with the private consortium that operates the commuter rail, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., since 2005. He earned $86,320 annually, according to Pesaturo.
The investigation began last fall, when employee Jaime Garmendia was cited by a supervisor in the customer service department for wearing a noose around his neck on Halloween. During the investigation, Garmendia told investigators he wore the same costume a year earlier, when he was a temporary worker in Stoetzel's department, and that it did not elicit concern, according to Stoetzel's letter. Garmendia got a 5-day suspension for the 2007 incident.
Stoetzel said that in 2006, Garmendia wore the noose along with a dark suit, black fingernail polish, makeup, and what appeared to be glitter in his hair. Stoetzel said Garmendia told him at the time that the costume was in honor of the Day of the Dead, as an homage to his Mexican heritage. The Day of the Dead, similar to Halloween, is celebrated in November.
Stoetzel then asked his supervisor, John Ray, whether the T had a dress code and was told that Halloween costumes were permitted for staff who do not work with the public, Stoetzel said.
Stoetzel also asked other workers on the floor, and they were not bothered, he said. At least one of those workers was black.
Stoetzel said he did not believe that Garmendia was wearing the noose in an attempt to intimidate. Nooses have been used in several prominent instances to intimidate blacks and conjure images of lynchings.
Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, said the noose is replacing the burning cross as the symbol of hatred for the Ku Klux Klan. There have been 70 reported noose incidents in the United States since Sept. 20, 2007, when thousands of people protested against the treatment of six black teenagers from Jena High School in Louisiana who were charged with beating a white student after a noose was hung on campus, Potok said.
"There has been a great deal of hypersensitivity out there, and I think some of it has gone quite awry," Potok said. "The idea that a noose can't be a part of a Halloween display or a Goth costume may be getting into a bit of dangerous territory here."
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com.