White Man Making Little Headway in Civil Rights Suit

Gretchen Wenner, Bakersfield Californian, Dec. 20, 2005

Brian Parnell: social worker, county employee, white man.

Parnell, 45, is so far making little headway after filing a federal civil rights complaint against a black professional organization. But he’s not giving up.

Here’s the back story: In April, Parnell flew to New Orleans with five black co-workers from the county’s Human Services Department. On the taxpayers’ dime, they’d signed on for professional training offered by the National Association of Black Social Workers.

But association officials wouldn’t let Parnell in because he’s white.

He filed a discrimination complaint in May with the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The department wrote back in late August saying that because the National Association of Black Social Workers doesn’t get federal financial assistance, the department “doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate your complaint.”

Parnell doesn’t buy that, and has asked the department how he can appeal.

In a Nov. 21 letter, Parnell pointed out the conference was “attended by hundreds of government employees” using federal training dollars.

“ . . . There is no question that they receive federal monies funneled through various governmental agencies such as my own,” he wrote to the department.

Those dollars should make the association subject to federal nondiscrimination laws, he believes.

In the 2003 tax year, the most recent available, the association’s annual conference reportedly provided more than $592,000 in revenues, out of a total $697,000, according to financial documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

A message requesting comment at the association’s national office in Washington, D.C., was not returned.

Membership in the group is only open to blacks, according to the association’s Web site.

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Parnell is talking with at least one lawyer about moving forward with his civil rights complaint, but has not retained anyone yet.

He’s frustrated about his “inability to do anything about what was an obvious instance of racism,” he said.

Parnell said he’d like to know why an organization created to combat racism feels “justified in exercising racism themselves.”

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