Driver Who Muttered ‘N-Word’ Awarded Jobless Pay

Clark Kauffman, Des Moines Register, May 9, 2007

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Anita Anderson, 48, of Des Moines was fired two days after the incident on her bus. According to state records, Anderson was driving students from Monroe Elementary School when a boy became disruptive and belligerent.

Anderson testified at a state hearing on her request for unemployment benefits: “I kept asking him to sit down. And he kept on and on. He said he was going to bust me in my face.”

After she told the boy he should not speak to her that way, Anderson muttered under her breath, she said.

“I was talking to myself,” she testified. “I was driving, and I said the word. You know, the ‘n-word.’ But I wasn’t talking to the student; I was just talking to myself.”

Anderson testified that a girl behind her overheard the remark and told others on the bus. That prompted another outburst from the boy who had threatened her.

“That little boy kept saying, ‘Oh, when we get to the bus stop my mom and dad is going to beat you down. Oh, we’re going to bust you in your face,’ ” Anderson testified.

When she finished her route and returned to the bus garage, she was told that the student’s mother had complained that the epithet was directed at her son.

District officials fired Anderson and challenged her claim for unemployment pay.

An administrative law judge, Debra Wise, concluded that while Anderson showed poor judgment, she had not committed misconduct. Therefore, Anderson was entitled to collect unemployment pay.

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Catherine McKay, the district’s risk manager, recently requested a new hearing. She argued that Anderson’s “behavior was directed toward a student” and that it constituted job-related misconduct.

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Anderson said at the initial hearing that she regretted the remark.

“I just couldn’t even explain to you how sorrowful I am that the word came out of my mouth,” she said. “I’m a Christian. . .. I’m also an African American. I know how whites or Caucasians or different people perceive that word.”

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