A noose, knowledge of anti-discrimination order scrutinized in court
BIRMINGHAM - AL —
Jefferson County commissioners' knowledge of federally mandated anti- discrimination practices was tested inside a federal courtroom. However, an attorney for the plaintiffs says an unanswered incident involving a noose shows how bad the system is broken.
After taking office in 2010, Commissioner Sandra Little Brown says she met with her department heads. She told the court, "I would not allow discrimination to anyone- black, white, man woman."
While Brown was aware of the 1982 consent decree, she admitted no knowledge of the particular requirements under the federal anti-discrimination decree against women and African Americans.
Brown says she told all employees with complaints to document them and she followed up on all the ones she was aware of. However, she later admitted to the consent decree not being fulfilled.
"I think there are two real problems- the system for bringing grievance is broken. The second, which is a consequence of that because the system is broken and people know that, they don't complain," said Rowan Wilson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Wilson's point was brought home by one of his witnesses.
The employee relations office in the HR Department, Kimberly Oden Webster testified about an investigation at the Roads and Transportation Department into drug use and equipment misuse. She says other employees were eaves dropping as she tried to privately discuss the complaint with the employee who filed it. After that interview, she told the judge she found a noose hanging in the women's bathroom. She described feeling intimidated as a black woman and filed a complain that remains unanswered.
Rowan Wilson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says documents submitted to the judge reveal even more problems.
"This trial would illustrate some of the examples from different departments to put a real face on documentary evidence," he said.
Testimony has also attacked the 2011 unpaid leaves for targeting women and African Americans and even for the hiring of a white male county manager.
Commission President David Carrington responded to both issues saying the unpaid leaves targeted certain jobs, not employees and Tony Petelos was the most qualified candidate.
The county manager is expected to testify later this week.
The trial began in 2009 but was delayed due the judge's discovery of a heart problem that needed immediate treatment.
Attorneys for the county have already told the judge they'll accept a modified order to ensure women and minorities are considered on an equal basis when it comes to hiring.
Commissioner Brown reiterated her willingness to randomly select qualified candidates using a lottery type system to fill 168 open positions.