5 AIDS services workers will share $200,000
Five African-American men and women who filed same-race harassment complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis-sion against the former executive director of Renaissance III, Donald Sneed, have agreed to a $200,000 settlement.
The insurance company that represented the now defunct South Dallas AIDS service agency is paying Hront Reed, Serita Agnew, Carolyn Jefferson, Kenny Scott and Ursula Traylor the money, according to Devika S. Dubey, senior trial attorney for the federal agency’s Dallas district office.
“We had a good resolution here,” Dubey said.. “Hopefully, it sends a message to folks that just because you are the same race of someone it doesn’t mean you can engage in that kind of behavior.”
Although Renaissance III is now closed, the settlement would require the organization if it ever reopens to implement policies and training to prevent harassment, according to a statement by the agency. If Sneed were to be rehired, he would be required to undergo psychological or psychiatric counseling and would not be allowed to hold a supervisory position or make employment decisions.
Dubey said formal complaints of same-race harassment are rare, and there are records of only one case in the nation’s federal court system involving such a violation.
“It is very unusual, but my understanding from talking to some of our charging parties is that this is not terribly uncommon,” Dubey said. “In fact, it goes on a lot more than we would like to think.”
Sneed, an African-American activist who has led several protests in Oak Lawn against white gay people, was accused of subjecting the black employees he supervised to the frequent use of an ethnic slur. The slurs were used in conjunction with references to slavery and violence committed against black people in the 19th Century, according to the complaints.
Renaissance III did not have an anti-harassment policy, nor did its board of directors investigate multiple complaints about Sneed’s behavior, according to a statement issued by the federal agency.
Sneed failed to respond to subpoenas for his deposition and defied a federal judge’s order to be deposed, according to the agency’s statement.
Rob Wiley, a Dallas lawyer who filed the complaint for the five workers, said he was delighted with the outcome for his clients’ sakes.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Wiley said. “The folks who worked for Renaissance III faced some of the worst discrimination I have ever seen.”
Jefferson, who worked at Renaissance III as an outreach specialist, said in her deposition that Sneed was unremorseful when staff members confronted him about the harassment, according to the statement.
“Just because I am the same color as Don Sneed did not give him the right to dehumanize me and make me feel inferior,” Jefferson said. “No one deserves to be victimized this way.”
Reed, another one of the complainants, said he believes the settlement corrects the injustice he and his co-workers experienced.
“Although many people may be unaware of the existence of same race-on-race harassment, this case shows that this type of discrimination is a reality,” Reed said.
Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the agency, said the settlement shows that any type of race-based harassment would not be tolerated.
“There are no double standards in our law enforcement efforts,” Canino said. “What’s wrong is wrong, and unlawful discriminatory intimidation focused on an employee’s race is a violation of Title VII, regardless of the race of the harasser.”
The agency issued a determination report July 1, 2004, saying its investigation revealed “reasonable cause” to believe a racially hostile work environment existed at Renaissance III. It issued no determination about sexual harassment complaints the employees made.
A Dallas County Auditor’s report questioned how Renaissance III spent government funds in August 2004 and asked it to return $133,824.
Sneed announced his resignation in February 2005.
Renaissance III changed its name to the South Dallas AIDS Resource Center in April 2005. The service group shut its doors in late 2005 after a campaign to save the financially troubled operation failed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 28, 2006.