Federal Court Refuses to Kill Dekalb Reverse-Discrimination Suit

Ty Tagami, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 31, 2009

In a rebuke to the administration of former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, a federal appeals court has denied the county’s request to dismiss a long-running, reverse-discrimination lawsuit.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in 2004 by four current and former employees of the county Parks and Recreation Department. They alleged DeKalb had a plan to harass and discriminate against white managers and claimed Jones, who took office in 2001 as the county’s first black CEO, said he wanted a “darker administration” to reflect “the new DeKalb County.”

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The order by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals says that in 2001 DeKalb “embarked on a wholesale plan to replace its white managers with African Americans.” It also says there is “shocking” evidence of “an overt and unabashed pattern of discrimination.”

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The appeals court ruling says evidence showed “compellingly” that Jones “was the architect of a racially discriminatory scheme” and that “unquestionably, he spawned the claims the plaintiffs have brought against him.”

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The suit was filed on behalf of Herbert Lowe, an African-American manager then in the parks department, and three white former managers there–Michael Bryant, John Drake and Becky Kelley. The plaintiffs claimed that Lowe was asked to “dig up dirt” on the white managers so they could be fired or forced to quit.

The lawsuit says Jones and other county officials told Lowe they wanted to replace the white managers because of their race and that Jones asked Lowe to “do what was necessary for the team.” Lowe refused, the suit says, and his job was eliminated.

The lawsuit claims the white managers were denied pay raises, were excluded from department meetings and were told they could no longer have contact with the media because officials wanted to present a “black administration” to the public.

The three white managers were eventually demoted or lost their jobs.

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