Two former Kansas City workers sue city manager

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | 5:48 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Two Kansas City budget analysts have sued the city and City Manager Wayne Cauthen, alleging they lost their jobs because of reverse discrimination and retaliation.

Jordan Griffin and Colleen Low, who are both white, filed the lawsuit Monday in Platte County Circuit Court. They said they were let go from their jobs this month while less experienced, minority employees were retained.

The two women are asking for lost pay, benefits and punitive damages.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the city and mayor face their own employment discrimination lawsuit, and the city faces a budget crunch that prompted the layoffs of more than 100 people. It also raises questions about the promotion of minorities by Cauthen, whose evaluation at the time was based in part on his commitment to workplace diversity.

"Under Wayne Cauthen, the city has adopted a 'whites need not apply' policy," said attorney Mark Jess, who represents Griffin and Low. "We want people to know it's illegal and wrong." Cauthen is black.

Mary Charles, city spokeswoman, said city officials won't comment because it is a personnel matter.

But Councilman Terry Riley said the policy of the council and city manager is to "hire the best candidates, no matter what the race, age, sex or ethnicity."

Councilwoman Deb Hermann said data show only minimal changes before and after this year's layoffs in the percentages by age and race of city employees. She also said the council made workforce diversity one of Cauthen's performance measures in 2005 because "we all want a proper balance, reflecting the population of Kansas City."

According to the lawsuit, Cauthen appointed Griffin, 61, acting commissioner of revenue in 2004 after one of his assistants "mistakenly assured him that Griffin would favor minority employees and applicants regardless of job performance or qualifications."

But in June 2005 that employee "began almost daily harassment of Griffin because Griffin had failed to rid the Revenue Division of white managers," the lawsuit alleges.

In May 2006, she applied for the position of commissioner of revenue. Although she had served as acting commissioner for two years and "received the highest performance rating possible," she wasn't granted an interview, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the city appointed Judy Hadley, a black woman who had no experience in the revenue department. Her hiring came while Cauthen's contract called for him to receive extra pay if the city retained or increased the number of women and minority employees.

In November 2006, Griffin and the two other white applicants for revenue commissioner filed race discrimination complaints against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In May 2008, the city settled with the three for $30,000, according to court records.

The lawsuit also names Troy Schulte, the city's budget officer, and alleges that Griffin was scapegoated in an investigation into Internal Revenue Service computer tapes missing from City Hall.

After filing her EEOC complaint with the commission, Griffin was asked about a box of IRS tapes missing from the revenue division. Schulte later told her that "Cauthen had targeted her because of her EEOC complaint," the lawsuit alleges.

The tapes have not been found, but no evidence was produced to implicate Griffin, said attorney John Osgood, who represented Griffin in a grand jury investigation. Griffin and Low were dismissed, effective this month.

Low, 53, worked for the city for 23 years, and said she was suspended without pay and then laid off when she spoke up in support of Griffin, according to the lawsuit.

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