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Funny Business in Veterans Benefits Alleged

HOUSTON (CN) - Houston Community College fired its director of veterans affairs after she caught an employee stealing veterans' benefits, the longtime employee claims in court.

Sabrina Lewis sued HCC on Dec. 30 in Harris County Court.

Lewis, who is African-American, claims racism contributed to her firing, as did alarm about her whistle-blowing.

Lewis, a Ph.D., says HCC hired her in 1992 and she worked her way up to become director of veterans affairs in 2010.

"Over the years, Dr. Lewis noticed that there is a difference in the way African-Americans are treated versus their counterparts in terms of opportunities, authority, respect, discipline, terminations and the like," she says in the complaint. "She also observed that HCC engaged in overt bullying tactics designed to silence its employees from making outside claims of internal wrongdoing."

Calling herself "the latest victim," Lewis says she supervised a white employee, Brandie Maynard, who "performed poorly for many years," and that despite her continued assistance, Maynard "did not consistently perform satisfactorily," and "became defensive, argumentative and disrespectful."

Maynard is not a party to the lawsuit. The only defendant is the college.

Lewis claims that in December 2014 she learned that "a Veterans Award was placed on Ms. Maynard's account to cover her tuition and fees for spring 2012 and fall 2013," though Maynard is not a veteran. She claims another HCC employee had given Maynard that benefit.

This discovery, she says, "meant that there were dishonest people in HCC's employ."

She says she informed at least six HCC administrators of this, and when she told them she would also notify the federal and state veterans affairs offices - which was her job - "(i)t was immediately frowned upon."

When she pursued it, she says, she "was met with angst and hostilities," and the college warned her "very clearly not to escalate the matters outside of HCC because that would invite public scrutiny and audits."

After discussing Maynard's shortcomings with her on Sept. 15, 2015, Lewis says, Maynard "became exceedingly belligerent," making her "so fearful that she called the campus police."

In response, she says, she was placed on leave the next day, and fired on Oct. 6. Maynard still works for the college, she says.

Lewis seeks punitive damages for whistleblower retaliation and discrimination.

She is represented by Katrina Patrick in Houston.

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