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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fired Metro CEO Alleges Racism

Metro’s former CEO has sued the bus company and the local transit firm that employed her, claiming she was fired last year because of racial and gender bias and a management consulting contract laced with conflicts of interest.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Marilyn Shazor’s attorney, retired federal appeals court judge Nathaniel Jones, charges she was dismissed in August 2010 in part due to officials’ “stereotypical assumption that a single, minority mother would be unable to manage executive responsibilities at Metro in difficult economic times.”

The suit alleges that Shazor, a 46-year-old single mother of two, one of them a disabled daughter, was a “victim of conscious and subconscious stereotyped thinking” reflected in a performance evaluation process that differed from that of white and male employees.

“As a rare African-American woman CEO, she threatened and disrupted the ‘old boy network,’” the suit says.

The other major factor in Shazor’s firing, Jones argues, stemmed from an unusual contract under which she was employed not by Metro itself but by an outside company, Loveland-based Professional Transit Management.

Under that contract, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, the board that oversees Metro, paid PTM about twice Shazor’s roughly $132,000 annual salary, with the additional money covering staff and other services periodically provided by PTM.

Metro spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers said Monday the company could not comment, but stressed that Shazor worked for PTM.

“At the time of her dismissal, Ms. Shazor was a PTM employee, not a SORTA or Metro employee,” Hilvers said. “All decisions relating to her employment were made by PTM.”

PTM officials did not return phone calls Monday.

'Caught in the middle'
Shazor’s job security became shaky, the suit alleges, amid moves to alter her PTM contract.

When SORTA’s chairwoman decided it made more sense for Shazor to be on Metro’s payroll, PTM executives viewed the plan as a threat to an arrangement under which it had been “pocketing a $12,000 profit each month on the back of Ms. Shazor and SORTA,” the suit says.

To protect its contract, PTM officials sought to discredit Shazor and to ultimately “eliminate (her) in a manner that would preclude SORTA from hiring her,” despite positive performance reviews, the suit says. Shazor, a West Point graduate with an MBA, , worked for Metro for four years, the final 2.5 years as CEO.

“PTM sought to maximize the fees it charged SORTA while SORTA sought to minimize its expenses,” the suit says. “Ms. Shazor, as CEO, was caught in the middle of the conflict and tension.”

There also were other occasions, the suit alleges, when Shazor’s “allegiance … to SORTA often put her in conflict with PTM, her legal employer.” For example, when PTM sought a contract for its parent company to operate the proposed Cincinnati streetcar – which SORTA itself wanted to run – Shazor sided with SORTA. On another occasion, Shazor angered PTM executive Tom Hock by questioning his effort to secure a SORTA strategic business planning contract for his wife, the suit says.

PTM officials plotted to undermine Shazor, the suit contends, by delaying her 2008 evaluation for four months and declining to conduct a 2009 evaluation, an “untimely and arbitrary” process not applied to white and male employees.

“Unlike any other white or male employees, she was allegedly terminated for poor performance, even though the only contemporaneous record of performance was ‘stellar’ and ‘satisfactory,’” the suit says.

Although PTM fired Shazor, the suit also faults unnamed SORTA board members for criticizing her performance and credibility via anonymous quotes in the news media at the time of her dismissal.

The fact that Shazor was “replaced by a woman of color,” Terry Garcia Crews – who also is a PTM employee – does not mitigate PTM’s actions, the suit concludes.

In addition to reinstatement, the suit asks for a financial award, including all lost pay and benefits and compensatory and punitive damages. SORTA, PTM, Hock and two unnamed SORTA trustees are named as defendants.

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