Board facing EEOC again

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two more complaints have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging racial discrimination against African-Americans by the county school board.

School budget director Sheila Cook-Jones filed her complaint on Aug. 25, and the system's coordinated school health director, Michelle Ashley, filed her complaint on Aug. 12.

Cook-Jones and Ashley allege discrimination by the school board because, as directors, they were denied administrative assistants due to their race, according to their complaints.

Furthermore, Ashley alleges on her Charge of Discrimination form, "During my employment (since September 2010), I was harassed and not given the same terms and conditions as the other white supervisors because of my race."

Cook-Jones made a similar allegation.

"I believe that African-American employees, as a class," she wrote to the EEOC, "are subjected to lesser terms and conditions than white-Caucasian employees."

When asked Friday if she had filed an EEOC complaint, Cook-Jones said, "Oh no, not me!" However, on Tuesday she did not deny it, stating simply, "I have no comment; none at all."

Ashley was also offered the opportunity to comment and she replied, "I have no comment."

Both school system employees would appear to have been motivated to complain by actions taken by school board members during meetings in July and August to finalize the 2011-2012 budget.

"The school board, consisting of nine board members (only one black)," Ashley wrote, "made a decision to give my assistant to a white supervisor.

"The one black board member protested on my behalf," she wrote to EEOC, "but the decision was made."

Cook-Jones' complaint is similar.

"The board, which consists of one black and eight white members, voted to deny the requested administrative assistant for the finance department, and also cut two administrative assistants from departments that are directed by African-Americans," she wrote.

"An administrative assistant for the instruction and curriculum department that is supervised by white-Caucasians was approved," Cook-Jones' EEOC complaint states.

This position had the support of board members such as Donnie Moses, who stated on Aug. 1, "I'm strongly in favor of an administrative assistant for the supervisors of instruction. The responsibilities of that group have increased exponentially."

However, Moses was against the assistant that Schools Director Roy Dukes proposed for Cook-Jones to share with payroll and accounts payable.

"These fractional positions are not efficient," he said during an open board meeting when personnel matters were discussed. "You don't see them in business for a very good reason."

Dukes had proposed an organizational chart that had one assistant assigned to serve the budget director, an accounts payable clerk and a payroll clerk. That position on the organizational chart was not authorized.

Ashley, however, has since been assigned an administrative assistant.

During the school board's Aug. 8 meeting, Ann Tears (the African-American board member) requested a review of the assistant for coordinated school health. Rules were suspended to let Ashley speak from the floor.

"The assistant is needed," Ashley said, pointing out that there is money from a federal grant to fund the position.

"It's not going to add anything to the budget," Ashley said.

The motion to add the half-time assistant for coordinated school health back on the schools director's organizational chart for the central office was approved on a 6-2 vote.

The latest EEOC complaints came less than a year after eight complaints alleging racial discrimination both against African-Americans (Linda Williams-Lee, Patsey Thomas and Tyra Braden) and against whites (Angie Williams, Janet Wiles, Teresa Moses, Larry Miller, and Jackie Abernathy).