The Birmingham city accountant fired twice on allegations of racism and incompetence today slapped the city with a federal lawsuit saying it was Mayor William Bell’s administration that was the true perpetrator of racial discrimination.
Virginia Spidle’s federal lawsuit alleges that the city has a pattern of discrimination and retaliation against white employees.
Much of the 49-page lawsuit recounts the testimony heard in days of hearings at the Jefferson County Personnel Board, where Spidle was ultimately cleared of her initial firing charge.
“We are celebrating 50 years of progress in civil rights. In the year we are celebrating that, good people of Birmingham would not approve of mistreating a person because of their race,” Spidle’s lawyer, Gayle Gear told al.com/The Birmingham News in an interview. “The foot soldiers—those who have worked diligently on behalf of race relations for this city—what happened in 2010, 2011 and 2012 is not a step forward in race relations. It is a step backwards. And that is why the lawsuit had to be filed.”
“The city instigated and condoned a race-based hostile work environment in the city’s finance department,” the lawsuit reads. “The discriminatory animus was severe and pervasive altering the terms and conditions of employment.”
The city’s protracted legal fight with Spidle began in July 2010, when the 24-year employee was fired after accusations of racial discrimination against black subordinates. Spidle is white.
She returned to work after the Jefferson County Personnel Board, after days of hearings cleared her of those charges and ordered her reinstated with back pay. But Spidle’s return was short-lived when the city fired her again in January 2012—after one week back on the job—on new charges of incompetence.
In a separate proceeding in Jefferson County Circuit Court, a three-judge panel also ordered Spidle back to work, clearing her of the original charges and ordering that she receive back pay from the time of her first termination.
The city last month sent a letter telling her to return to work, just before the beginning of another hearing before the Jefferson County Personnel Board was set to begin. Spidle is back at City Hall, but in a different department.
Spidle’s newly filed lawsuit claims her firings were retaliation for her participation in an earlier complaint filed by a white employee who complained of mistreatment based on her race.
“The city also ignored the Personnel Board’s factual findings that exonerated plaintiff of all charges including the scurrilous charge of racism instigated by (Jarvis) Patton weeks after his appointment as Chief of Operations,” the lawsuit states. “The actions of the city were the result of intentional race discrimination and retaliation . . . ”
“Despite protestations by plaintiff and other Caucasian employees, a racially charged hostile work environment was instigated, encouraged and condoned by top city officials, specifically Mayor Bell and Chief of Operations, Jarvis Patton,” the lawsuit states.
Spidle claims the entire process that resulted in her termination was biased and part of a culture of hostility toward a white minority in her department at City Hall.
“During the period that plaintiff was being subjected to race-based discrimination, other supervisors, who are Caucasian, were reporting similar discriminatory treatment altering the terms and conditions of their employment.”
The lawsuit lists several examples of alleged mistreatment of white employees in the finance department.
While a majority of employees in the department are black, the office is headed by Tom Barnett, who is white. However the lawsuit focuses on Patton, who is black and Bell’s most senior aide.
Spidle in her lawsuit cites the number of black employees who were promoted under her supervision as well as her clean employment history.
But that record was not taken into consideration by Patton when he led the effort to fire her, the lawsuit claims.
Though she is now back at work, Gear said her client has been given minor duties in another department well below her job classification.