DART worker fired after discrimination claim

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by By BRETT SHIPP / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on November 20, 2008 at 12:51 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 3:31 PM

News 8 Investigates

Brett Shipp reports

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DALLAS - The Dallas Area Transit Authority is being accused of violating federal hiring laws.

A DART official allegedly issued directives to hire more Hispanics - regardless of their qualifications.

The allegations are backed by several complaints filed with the federal government just a few days ago.

Current and former DART employees are complaining of improper favoritism being shown toward Hispanics.

While DART officials dismiss the claims, those we talked to say the evidence is disturbing, and something DART evidently doesn't want you to see.

The numbers tell a story of racial diversity at the Dallas transit agency:

58 percent black 23 percent white 17 percent Hispanic

Officials say the figures represent a mosaic of qualified individuals who serve the passengers and the taxpayers well.

"I think the numbers certainly speak for themselves," said DART Executive Director Gary Thomas. "We work very hard to make sure we have a diverse work force."

But some say behind the figures - and beyond DART's sturdy exterior - there is a corrosive internal divide: An alleged campaign of favoritism and intimidation being waged by top managers in charge of hiring and firing.

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Rebecca Williams filed a complaint over what she considered to be discriminatory hiring practices.

Rebecca Williams said she had been working in the agency's human resources department for only a few days when her supervisor issued a disturbing command.

"She went into her 'He have to hire Hispanics only.' That was the first time she said it, in December," Williams said

Williams, who is black, says hiring based on race is a violation of federal hiring laws. Yet she dismissed the comment, until the same supervisor said it again.

"She stopped by my office that morning in March and said, 'You're not hiring enough Hispanics,'" Williams recalled. "She stated Ben Gomez informed her, this is something that must be done, because DART needs to hire Hispanics only."

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Ben Gomez

Ben Gomez, DART's executive vice president of administration, declined to comment on the allegations.

His boss, DART Executive Director Gary Thomas, says while DART is aggressive about its ethnic makeup, the allegations of favoritism are false.

Would Thomas like to see DART hire more Hispanics? "I'm all for diversity in the work force, and I'm all for making sure that we increase opportunities for everybody," he replied.

"I loved going to work every day," said former DART safety specialist Jeffrey High, who left the agency after eight years for a job in the private sector.

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Jeffrey High reapplied for his old job at DART.

Last May, friends at DART asked him to reapply for his old job.

According to candidate evaluation documents obtained by News 8 Investigates, High - who is black - ranked first out of six candidates to fill his old job.

"There is not another candidate who has the transit-specific safety background that this one has," one interviewer wrote.

Behind the scenes in human resources, Rebecca Williams said she was ready to hire High when word came down from a senior manager.

"He told me, 'Don't make him an offer,' because Ben Gomez had decided to hire a Hispanic, or Ben Gomez wanted to hire a Hispanic," Williams said.

High, who once held the job with pride for years, was turned away.

"To hear something like that, it really puts a bad taste in your mouth and really just hurts to the core."

Williams said conditions became so bad she filed an internal complaint, which was investigated.

But when News 8 asked to see the results of that investigation, DART officials refused to release them, instead seeking a ruling from State Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Just days ago, Abbott ordered DART to release the report. DART declined, filing suit against Abbott to block its release.

What DART does not know is News 8 obtained its own copy of the investigation DART does not want the public to see, dated June 27, 2008.

The investigator found "clear evidence of racially based and perhaps gender derived statements" being made at DART.

Included in the report is a recommendation that "appropriate action be taken to address ... statements concerning Hispanics and a perceived bias toward them."

The report was never released.

Instead, on August 26, Williams received a letter from DART's Director of Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity Kriss Ann Gamez. In it, Gamez declares that the official investigation concluded that there is "insufficient evidence to justify the allegations of unlawful discrimination" in Williams' complaint.

Yet this week - nearly three months later - DART Executive Director Gary Thomas said the report is not yet complete.

"I really can't speak to that at this point in time," Thomas said. "It's still an open... open process at this point from our perspective, so I can't speak to the results of that report."

Thomas declined to discuss the report even after being offered the copy that News 8 had obtained.

Days after Rebecca Williams contacted WFAA about her concerns, she was terminated from DART for poor performance.

She has now joined at least four other current and former employees in filing grievances with the federal government citing ongoing improper racial favoritism at DART.

Williams said she believes racial quotas still exist at the transit agency.

Again, DART officials deny the allegations of showing favoritism toward Hispanics, but with federal complaints and now a retaliation lawsuit being filed, these are allegations that DART will not be able to downplay.

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