Allegations of racism countered by board

Friday, September 9, 2011

School board members Tuesday night obtained "clarification" of circumstances surrounding recent complaints of racial discrimination filed last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Board member Barbara Kennedy requested that discussion of the EEOC charges be added to the new business portion of the agenda on Tuesday.

"We need clarification," Kennedy said to board members and their attorney Sam Jackson. "The board only employs Mr. Dukes, correct?"

"Correct," Jackson confirmed.

Jackson stated that the charges are against the entity that employs the complainant, and that is headed up by director of schools Roy Dukes.

"The Board is not the entity that needs to be named in the charges," Jackson said. "You are the governance and Dukes is the administration."

In other words, the attorney explained, Dukes is the person with the final say over hiring, firing, and transferring.

Kennedy also pointed out that the board has a policy against harassment and discrimination, Policy 5.500, which states, among other things, "Alleged victims of ... racial... discrimination/harassment shall report these incidents immediately. This report should be made to the immediate supervisor except when the immediate supervisor is the offending party. If the immediate supervisor is the offending party, the report may be made to the ... Personnel Director."

"In either of these cases were you made aware?" Kennedy asked Dukes. "Did you have any knowledge these charges were forthcoming?"

"No," the school system director replied.

"What are you going to do?" she asked. "They've violated board policy."

Jackson pointed out that disciplinary action against the two employees was "likely to draw a retaliation complaint," but also said, "the law looks poorly on someone who doesn't follow policy. You have to show you've exhausted internal remedies."

Jackson said he himself conducted the training for Central Office staff three months ago and specifically told personnel that complaints were to be made to Dukes or interim assistant director Dr. Larry Miller.

"I know it's been said because I said it myself," Jackson told board members, adding that he was working on responses to the EEOC complaints.

"The Board has done nothing wrong," Kennedy later wrote in an e-mail. "We should not be wasting time and resources because some people didn't get what they wanted."

In regard to the EEOC complaints filed almost a year ago, Kennedy clarified that Teresa Moses, Jackie Abernathy and Janet Wiles have received "Right to Sue" letters and have retained the Bussart Law Firm to represent them. Last month, this firm successfully negotiated a settlement for former school-bus driver Larry Barlar. The Marshall County School System is being represented by their insurer, the Tennessee Risk Management Trust.

Kennedy further clarified by an e-mail that, "The board has very limited authority, but setting policy and approving the budget are our responsibility. When decisions are made to add or not add, cut or not cut, positions in the organizational chart, it has absolutely nothing to do with who. The board does not control who. If positions are eliminated (or not added), it is because a majority of the nine-member board believe either there are not enough funds available in the budget for that position or else the funds need to be allocated elsewhere for the best and most efficient operation of the system. Whether the funds are federal, state or local, as board members we are obligated to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money."