Tuesday, August 15, 2000

City worker claims bias

She alleges on-job reverse discrimination

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's most visible customer service representative has filed a federal race discrimination complaint against the city manager and two other top administrators.

        Debra Vitt says that for nearly two years she has been harassed and taunted by two black supervisors in the city manager's office, but officials ignored her complaints because she is white.

        She said City Manager John Shirey repeatedly dismissed her claims of discrimination, at one point telling her that he knows “reverse discrimination occurs, but unfortunately their side is the only one that gets heard.”

        She said that at another time Mr. Shirey pounded on her desk with his fists and shouted “that he was CEO of the city, he made million-dollar deals and he did not have time for people like me or issues like mine.”

        Mr. Shirey did not return calls Monday.

        When Ms. Vitt complained about the manager and his staff formally to the city's Equal Employment Opportunity office, she said investigators stalled and allowed harassment to escalate.

        Since filing the complaint in April, Ms. Vitt, a 10-year city employee, said a racial epithet was carved in her desktop, she has been verbally “browbeaten,” received a poor performance review and last week was threatened with a job transfer.

        “I don't want to be moved out of my job,” said Ms. Vitt, who is stationed at a kiosk near the entrance to City Hall. “I do a good job in customer service. I do care about the city. Why should I be made to go?”

        In a complaint filed Friday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ms. Vitt alleges that problems started days after taking her job as customer service specialist in 1998, when she objected to what she termed rude treatment by communications officer Gina Ruffin-Moore.

        The complaint says Ms. Ruffin-Moore acknowledged being rude during a meeting with supervisor Fannie Nicholes, assistant to the city manager.

        “Ms. Moore stated, however, that "maybe I just resented the fact that two black females were telling me what to do,'” Ms. Vitt said.

        Instead of intervening, the complaint alleges Ms. Nicholes agreed with Ms. Ruffin-Moore, saying: “All white people are prejudiced; it's just subconscious with some. They just can't help it.”

        Neither Ms. Ruffin-Moore nor Ms. Nicholes would talk Monday about that exchange or any of the complaint's other allegations.

        “I always make every effort to treat all of the employees I supervise fairly,” Ms. Nicholes said, referring questions to the city solicitor.

        “I am not aware,” Ms. Ruffin-Moore said. “I have to look into it.”

        She said she knew nothing about the federal complaint. When asked about the April complaint, Ms. Ruffin-Moore said she had “nothing more to say.”

        David Chapman, assistant to the city manager and EEO officer, confirmed Monday the investigation into Ms. Vitt's complaint was “ongoing.”

        He denied that investigators dragged their feet, saying several people needed to be interviewed before the case could be closed.

        “We took the complaint very seriously,” he said.

        In her federal complaint, Ms. Vitt alleged investigators refused to interview Mr. Shirey.

        Mr. Chapman said Mr. Shirey was interviewed “last week or the week before” and that a preliminary report on the complaint was being prepared.

        But now that a federal complaint had been filed, he said his office would not proceed.

        Ms. Vitt's lawyer, Mark Byrne, said Monday that most investigations take less than 30 days. He said for months he and his client have held off filing a federal complaint while waiting for the city to act.

        “All she wants is to resolve these problems,” he said. “The one thing Debra wants out of this is to go to work every day without roadblocks.”


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- City worker claims bias
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