COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Three white people who worked for a Columbia nonprofit group have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that black employees sought to push white employees out of the organization.
The three plaintiffs filed the lawsuit last week against the Boone County Community Partnership, which provides assistance to low-income families. The plaintiffs allege that black employees and board members harassed and intimidated white employees for years at the organization.
Andre Townsel, lawyer for the BCCP, denied the allegations and said the lawsuit is the result of one disgruntled employee, Steve Tatlow, who was upset that he had been fired.
Tatlow was fired for “abusing time off and failing to be accountable for his work,” he said.
“Bottom line is he’s a disgruntled employee, and he didn’t like the fact that these black folks were coming in and taking charge, so they blew it up into this big racial matter. And I don’t think race had anything to do with it,” Townsel said.
David Brown, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said although the state defunded the partnership last month for fiscal mismanagement, the not-for-profit has an insurance policy that could cover the type of misconduct his clients allege.
The former employees, Tatlow, Janet Stevens and Danny O’Farrell, are seeking back pay and other compensation for inconvenience and mental anguish.
According to the lawsuit, in May 2007, 10 of the 16 board members were white, but by August 2008, there were only nine board members, seven of them black. The racial composition of the staff, meanwhile, shifted from 60 percent black to 100 percent black.
Tatlow alleged he was left out of meetings, relieved of duties without explanation and ultimately fired when he requested medical leave for a back ailment.
He also alleges that BCCP Director Lolita Lucas referred to him as a “white racist piece of crap” in the presence of O’Farrell.
O’Farrell claims that Lucas intimidated him by reminding him of his criminal conviction and that he was required to have employment as a condition of parole. He also claims Lucas told him, “You have three strikes against you and no place else to go.” O’Farrell alleges Lucas told him his three strikes were that he is disabled, white, and a felon.
O’Farrell alleges that Lucas told him, “You are looking pasty. Not dark enough to work here.”
Stevens claims she was alternately ignored and harassed by three partnership leaders who spread a false rumor about her. When she lodged a complaint about a racial comment made about former Executive Director Linda Green, she alleges her complaint was ignored. According to the lawsuit, Green, who is white, resigned as executive director in 2008 complaining of a hostile work environment and a failure of the board to address her grievances.
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