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Thursday, June 4, 2009

EEOC Sides With Mississippi Black Troopers

BY NATALIE CHANDLER • NATALIE.CHANDLER@CLARIONLEDGER.COM

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found legitimacy in allegations the state Department of Public Safety has discriminated against black troopers.

The EEOC issued a determination today finding that the DPS has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The department "discriminated against blacks as a class because of their race within respect to assignments, demotions, discharges, discipline, harassment, hiring, intimidation, hostile work environment, promotions, and the overall terms and conditions of their employment," according to the determination.

DPS said much of the alleged discrimination occurred long before Steve Simpson became commissioner last year.

In a timeline released to the news media, DPS spokesman Jon Kalahar notes that Simpson took steps to investigate and address issues raised in an anonymous letter to Gov. Haley Barbour in October — months before the EEOC complaint was filed on Jan. 6. Simpson became commissioner on May 1, 2008.

Simpson appointed a special committee of former Supreme Court Justices Reuben Anderson and Jim Roberts and College Board member and lawyer Amy Whitten to hear black troopers’ complaints. But none of the troopers would come forward.

There are more than 607 state troopers in Mississippi of which 208 are black.

"Discrimination in any form should not be tolerated, especially in state government," Derrick Johnson, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement.

The EEOC will begin "conciliation efforts" between the department and the black troopers to resolve the situation.

It has drafted an agreement that includes a notice to employees stating the department will comply with federal laws and, among other things, "will not discriminate against any employee on the basis of race" or in retaliation.

The department has to respond to the invitation within 14 days.

Simpson said DPS takes the EEOC report seriously but views its findings as vague and lacking in specifics. "DPS will continue reviewing any potential merits of the allegations and any action, if necessary, that need to be taken," he said in his statement.

To comment on this story, call Natalie Chandler at (601) 961-7075 or Marquita Brown at (601) 961-7059.

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$1.5M to Black Miss. Troopers Said Unlikely


BY NATALIE CHANDLER

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson said today that his agency isn’t likely to agree to a suggested $1.5 million settlement to resolve allegations of racial discrimination without more specifics from the federal government.

Simpson said he plans to contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this week and request a meeting over a report the commission issued last week. The EEOC issued a determination that found substance to allegations DPS has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Simpson, who took over DPS about 13 months ago, said he’s "fairly certain" that as it stands today, the agency won't agree to a drafted agreement that includes a recommendation the state pay $1.5 million in damages, back wages and legal fees to troopers who have alleged racial slurs and being passed over for promotions.

DPS "discriminated against blacks as a class because of their race within respect to assignments, demotions, discharges, discipline, harassment, hiring, intimidation, hostile work environment, promotions, and the overall terms and conditions of their employment," according to EEOC findings.

DPS has 14 days to respond to the recommendations. But Simpson said, "It's got to be a bigger, longer procedure than that .. to identify that class, and first, to verify that they were indeed discriminated against and then to identify what remedies, if any, are justified."

"That can't be accomplished in the next 10 days," he said at a meeting of The Clarion-Ledger editorial board.

The Mississippi Central State Troopers Coalition, a group of black troopers, has called for the removal of Col. Michael Berthay, the demotion of nearly a dozen other high-ranking DPS officials and 21 other suggested changes.

But Simpson said, "I think it's a larger question than getting rid of one person. I think the real question they have raised .. is whether or not this merit promotion system can be abused and manipulated."

Simpson said he is studying a system used in Alabama whereby troopers from other states administer tests and conduct interviews for promotions.

To comment on this story, call Natalie Chandler at (601) 961-7075.

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