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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Racial Bias Alleged at Big Brothers

DALLAS (CN) - The leader of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America disproportionately fired minorities after expressing an intent to move the group away from serving its base of ethnic minorities, two black former employees claim.

Former Big Brothers marketing manager Erick C. Brown, of Illinois, and former general counsel and vice president Kelley Gilbert, of the District of Columbia, sued the Irving, Texas-based volunteer mentor program in Federal Court on Thursday.

They say former Tampa Mayor Pamela Ioria was hired as chief executive in March and informed senior leadership of her "intent to shift the focus of BBBSA away from serving ethnic minority communities, namely African-American, Latino and Native-American children and their families."

"A direct outcome of Iorio's new vision was a race-based change in BBBSA's national office staffing," the complaint states. "With a staff of forty-three (43) employees in its Irving, Texas national headquarters, Iorio took steps to reduce BBBSA's Irving-based staff to twenty-two (22) employees. ...

"(T)he organization retained sixteen (16) Caucasians and only six (6) minorities among its Irving-based national office staff. Of the 16 Caucasians retained, three were promoted to senior roles and received increased remuneration, while the majority of the remaining minority staff work in administrative or junior management roles."

Iorio is not a party to the lawsuit, though the plaintiffs claim she Iorio "systematically terminated" 14 minority employees while firing only seven white ones "as part of her vision" to shift focus from serving minorities.

They say Big Brothers went on to hire back some of the fired white employees, further increasing the racial disparity.

The plaintiffs say they are not challenging Iorio's authority to determine the group's mission.

"Instead, plaintiffs challenge ... Iorio's decision to slash BBBSA's staff to match this ethnically-altered vision. Simply put, it is not axiomatic that ethnic minorities can serve only ethnic minority populations."

Big Brothers serves more than 200,000 children and families nationwide, more than 70 percent of whom are black, Hispanic or Native American.

The plaintiffs point out the group receives "significant federal funds," including from the Department of Labor's Reintegration of Ex-Offenders grant program.

"BBBSA recognizes this target population is largely minority and cites the populations it serves and assessment data to support federal grant applications," the complaint states.

Big Brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

The plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages for racial discrimination. They are represented by Michael Coles in Dallas.

Follow @davejourno
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