Rich Summers was hired as a union representative in March 2020 at the National Association of Government Employees in Quincy, Massachusetts.
The position at NAGE took him on the road to meet with government employees at RMV branches around the state.
"I loved the job," Summers told the NBC10 Investigators while sitting at the kitchen table inside his Arlington home.
However, Summers said the sentiment abruptly changed in August 2021.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
Like many other employers around the country, NAGE workers had largely operated remotely since the start of the pandemic. But by summer 2021, people were coming back to the office and meeting colleagues for the first time in person.
At a union ratification meeting, Summers said he was making introductions when his boss approached the group.
"He said, 'Hey, when his kind shakes your hand, make sure you check for jewelry.' And I was immediately stunned and taken off guard," Summers recalled.
As the meeting continued, Summers said so did the offensive comments.
"He approached my chair and said in a Southern drawl, 'How do you get your head so shiny?'" Summers said. "And then he followed it up by saying, 'If I bleached you, you’d look like Mr. Clean.' I just felt humiliated and marginalized."
The following week at work, Summers said he approached his boss at work to communicate how the comments made him feel. The conversation did not go well, he told NBC10 Boston.
Instead of understanding how the remarks could be perceived as racially insensitive, Summers said his boss was defensive and abruptly ended the exchange by walking out of his office.
After that, Summers believes he experienced retaliation, including being stripped of certain job duties, losing his car allowance, and having his desk moved to a location in direct line of sight of all the leadership at the labor union.
"I felt like my head was on a swivel the entire time," Summers said. "It was like I was in a fish bowl, the stress and pressure I was feeling."
Summers said he repeatedly asked to be reassigned to a new supervisor at NAGE. Eventually, he had a scheduled meeting with the union president’s chief of staff to discuss a different position.
On Monday morning last November, Summers said he showed up to the NAGE office with a hard copy of his resume in hand.
"I go to my desk, pull my chair out, and there’s a noose on my chair," Summers described.
When asked what the moment was like, he responded, "Terror, trauma… and then it turned to rage."
Summers called Quincy police, who responded to NAGE’s building and launched an investigation.
Summers later hired an attorney and also filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the state agency that investigates and enforces the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
Summers’ racial harassment and retaliation allegations are detailed in a copy of his complaint filed with MCAD and obtained by NBC10 Boston.
Over the course of several weeks, we called and emailed NAGE to ask the union about the allegations. We even stopped by the office to leave a business card at the front desk.
When nobody responded, we approached NAGE President David Holway in the parking lot as he arrived to work.
"Our response is that it’s working its way through the system. But at the end of the day, I think Mr. Summers is going to be deeply disappointed at the outcome," Holway said. "I don’t think his allegations hold any water."
We asked Holway about his reaction to a noose reportedly being found inside the workplace.
"I’ve been in charge here for 20 years and there’s never been any type of allegation like this about anybody," he responded. "We’ll be vindicated at the end of the day."
As the police investigation stretched into months, NAGE says it offered Summers a number of different job options, including working from home.
He refused, and the union eventually placed him on unpaid leave and stopped his benefits.
Summers’ attorney told NBC10 Boston they are waiting on the MCAD to make a probable cause determination on the racial harassment and retaliation complaint.
Meantime, Quincy police said they have concluded their investigation, pending any DNA results on the noose that come back from the state’s crime lab.
How does Summers describe his job now?
"I describe it as a job that I feel took a part of my soul," he answered.