MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Nine workers in the Auburn University athletic department who were laid off or reassigned filed a federal lawsuit Thursday accusing the school of racial discrimination.
The lawsuit against the university was filed in U.S. District Court. Five of the former custodial workers were laid off last May. Four others were moved to other departments during a reorganization after Auburn moved from Beard-Eaves Coliseum to the smaller new Auburn Arena, plaintiff Curtis Chandler Jr. said.
Overall, 10 of the 11 employees who lost their athletic department jobs during reorganization were black, according to the lawsuit, which said that only one black employee who wasn’t a coach moved to the new building.
“It just hits you in the face that it’s so overwhelmingly absurd and ridiculous that Auburn would do that,” said Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, who is representing the plaintiffs.
University spokesman Mike Clardy said school attorneys could not comment until they have seen the lawsuit. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, court costs, and restoration of their old jobs with back pay and benefits.
“All plaintiffs aver that the race discrimination practiced against them has been systematic, endemic and reflective of a long-term practice of intentional race discrimination practiced by defendant Auburn University against black employees, especially in the Athletic Department,” the suit states.
It alleges discrimination against them in receiving promotions and in their pay level compared to white employees, who also allegedly were allowed more overtime than black employees. But the complaints also range from a receptionist not forwarding email to a black employee and the allocation of football tickets.
All the employees filed complaints against Auburn with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last June, according to the lawsuit. McPhillips said EEOC has not acted on the complaints or sent a right-to-sue notification, but cited another statute that he said allows the suits to go forward.
McPhillips said only 2 percent of Auburn’s athletic department employees, excluding coaches, were black before the reorganization. There were no fulltime black employees, the suit said, in turf management, media relations, marketing, sports medicine, athletic training, equipment, the ticket office and recruiting.
Six of the plaintiffs attended a news conference at McPhillips’ office, two wearing Auburn shirts.
Chandler, who has worked for Auburn for some 17 years, became the athletic department’s maintenance superintendent in 2000 and was transferred last October to the Student Activities Center, the lawsuit said. Chandler, who said he did not receive a pay cut, contends he has been harassed and moved to a lesser job in retaliation for his EEOC complaint. According to that filing, he was making $39,289 as of June.
The lawsuit also said Chandler was not interviewed for a supervisor’s position at the new arena, which went to a white employee with no supervisory experience.
The other plaintiffs are: Antonio Floyd, Walter Hughley, Teresa Ligon, Eddie J. Mackey, Ernest Ross, Pamela Oliver, Sizzy Townsend and Marquetia Williams.
Williams and Townsend both said they were offered jobs at the same pay with an outside contractor for six months and lower pay and no benefits for the first year. Both said they declined and are still unemployed. Williams said she lost her mobile home and car to foreclosure.
Mackey said he was demoted. Floyd said the transfer left him and the other remaining employees unable to receive the overtime pay that came with the sporting events at the coliseum.
“You can base your income off that,” Floyd said, “but when they take all that way from you, you’re back down to ground zero.”