Leader Blues

Saturday, September 12, 2009

TOP STORY >> Appeals court says complaint must be heard

Leader staff writer

A Sherwood elementary counselor will get her day in court, thanks to a recent decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Donna Humphries, a 26-year education veteran, received her doctorate in administration in 1996.

Since then, she has applied for about 16 administration positions, and in at least a dozen cases was she claimed she was passed over for either much less qualified or totally unqualified candidates despite the districts written policy that it would “make special efforts to employ and advance women, blacks, and handicapped persons.”

Humphries’ attorney, Mark Burnette, said the appeals court decision, filed Sept. 3, is a victory for Humphries in that she will get to present her case in front of a jury now. “Unless the district decides to settle,” Burnette said.

Some of those unqualified hirings that Humphries complained about in an August school board meeting are among the reasons the district is on accreditation probation. Last year the district had close to 80 staff members working in positions that they were not certified, licensed or qualified to fill, according to Deborah Coley, an administrator with the district. She added that it was down to less than 40 people now.

Humphries filed a reverse discrimination complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006 and then went forward with a federal lawsuit. District Judge Susan Webber Wright issued a summary judgment in April 2008 in favor of the district, not allowing Humphries a jury trial.

She appealed that ruling to the 8th Circuit Court in April.

Burnette said the case is not just about discriminatory practices against whites, but all races.

Humphries has shown that the district has a long-standing practice of biracially pairing administrators, meaning if the principal is white, the assistant principal will be black and vice versa. So if a black person wants a position where there is already a black, chances are the district has, in the past, discriminated against that person by hiring a white.

Statistically, according to the appeal court, the pairing of black and white administrators is twice as high as the required number to be considered discriminatory.

The appeal court’s opinion, written by Circuit Court Judge Raymond Gruender, states, “Viewing facts in the light most favorable to Humphries, a reasonable jury could conclude that the district has a policy of pairing assistant principals with principals of different races. Humphries has met her burden of raising a genuine issue of material fact about whether there was a specific link between the district’s failure to promote her and the district’s affirmative action policies.”

The appeals court reversed the “district court’s grant of the district’s motion for judgment with regard to Humphries’ claims that the district discriminated against her when it refused to promote her to the assistant principal positions.”

The court also reinstated her state law claims so the federal court can reconsider whether to hear the state law claims along with the federal law claims.

But all the news from the appeals court was not good for Humphries.

It sided with Humphries over the assistant principal positions, but felt she had not exhausted all the proper channels in her complaint that she was discriminated against in her efforts to get the district’s director of counseling services position.

Humphries still has a grievance filed against the district through the teacher’s association that will go before an arbitrator later this fall.

“I’m not doing this for me,” she told the board in August. “We have so many good people who have tried and tried for these jobs and have been passed up. These are loyal hard working employees and they are not being rewarded. Very capable people are not getting jobs.”

Humphries told the board that there are at least seven administrators who are not properly licensed and unqualified.

She told the board she has been blackballed and it has destroyed her career. “I’ve got a doctorate, yet I’m still in an entry-level position. We tell students to go to school for advancement and better jobs and then it doesn’t happen when we continue with our education,” Humphries said.

She asked the board to do two things. One, start an investigation into hiring practices and make the necessary changes to get the best and most qualified people. Secondly, to have all unqualified administrators to step down and reopen those job positions.

“Again, it’s just not me. So many people have been done dirty,” Humphries said, adding that she and others were not happy with the district’s hiring practices of nepotism, the good old boy network and picking girlfriends over qualified candidates.

Burnette said he should receive a schedule notice soon from the district court listing new dates for Humphries’ case.