LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – Fifty-three years after President Eisenhower had to call out the National Guard to integrate Little Rock High School, the Little Rock School District is still discriminating because of race, 19 black employees claim in Federal Court. All 19 plaintiffs work in Maintenance and Operations, and say the superintendent has ignored their complaints of racial discrimination for years.
“The physical disparity between the white sector and the black sector is obvious,” the workers say.
“The white sector of the MOD facility is kempt, well maintained and air conditioned. The white sector employees get the new equipment, favorable treatment, less onerous work assignments and a friendly work environment. The black sector of the MOD facility is unkempt, poorly maintained, not air conditioned and its employees receive the ‘hand me down’ equipment from the white sector.”
They add that white employees are paid more and receive benefits that black employees do not.
“The history of the MOD is that the supervision of employees is racial. White supervisors are generally in control. The two black foremen (out of ten) supervise racially identifiable work crews. The white foremen supervise black and white work crews. White employees earn the greatest pay, have the greatest amount of employment opportunity and security and enjoy a racially non discriminatory work environment. The reverse is true for black employees. The white employees are also provided benefits which are denied the black employees. Black employees generally begin employment as substitutes while white employees generally begin employment as regular workers. The white employees have lines of progression while the black employees do not.”
The complaint states: “The defendant Linda Watson is superintendent of the LRSD. She has long been aware of the general circumstances of plaintiffs. She has had the authority to take corrective action but has refused or failed to do so despite numerous requests of some of the plaintiffs and at least two school district board members. The defendants Wayne Adams and Kevin Yarberry are the actual director and supervisor of the MOD. They deliberately created, engaged and have engaged in perpetual practices of racial discrimination. They are sued individually and officially.”
It adds: “All of the board members are or should be aware that the MOD facility is divided into three separate sectors: one is for the workers of whom 47 to 50 are white (the white side) and is located on the facility’s east side; the second sector is for workers of whom 47 of the 50 are black and is located on the west side (the black side); and the middle sector which consists of two parts: (1) the seven member management office which is all white and several other offices which are mixed but housed less than six people and (2) the bookkeeping office which is mostly black.”
The Little Rock School District has a history of racial tension. In 1957, President Eisenhower called out the National Guard to escort nine black students into Central High School. It was the most dramatic federal enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which found the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) unconstitutional.
Each of the 19 plaintiffs cites specific claims of racial discrimination. For example, Damieon Jackson says a white employee hacked into the school district’s computer system to divert Jackson’s overtime hours to a white employee. When Jackson complained, his supervisor treated the act as a “prank” and refused to prosecute the offender, Jackson says.
The workers seek damages and an injunction that would, among other things, require the district to reorganize work crews in a nondiscriminatory manner, apply standard procedures for new hires to both black and white workers, promotion of deserving individuals to positions they were denied, and court-ordered monitoring.
They are represented by John W. Walker of Little Rock.