A third former executive with the United Way of Tarrant County has filed a racially charged discrimination lawsuit against the high-profile non-profit.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Fort Worth by Michael D. Price, 61, an African-American and former vice president with the United Way, describes a culture of racist behavior that included inappropriate comments and emails that circulated among the non-profit’s executives and community leaders.
One comment, from an executive to Price, suggested that “Hitler had some good ideas,” while an email contained a video called the “2nd Annual Ferguson Games,” a derogatory spoof depicting violence between African-Americans and police as a sporting event, according to the lawsuit.
The discrimination lawsuit is the third filed against the United Way since December 2016, court records show. The other two involve women who worked in leadership roles at the agency. One of those cases was settled and the other is pending in federal court.
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Price, who was hired in 2002 and rose to the position of vice president of information technology in the Fort Worth office, said he has witnessed the purging of experienced African-American leadership, particularly among women, since April 2016, according to the lawsuit.
Price claims he faced race and age discrimination, and retaliation for participating in an investigation of a colleague’s similar complaints.
“This is not just about the percentage of blacks in the workforce at United Way of Tarrant County, but about equal opportunity for blacks, based on work performance and merit, within its workplace and, city, state and federal laws designed to deter ageism, discrimination and retaliation within a workplace,” Price said in an email to the Star-Telegram.
Price is also a former employee of the Star-Telegram, leaving in 1997.
Price’s lawsuit, filed in January, does not specify the amount being sought. He was laid off in June as the United Way was forced to reduce its workforce because of a drop in charitable donations.
‘We made hard choices’
Officials with the United Way of Tarrant County, which provides millions in funding to its member organizations, declined to comment on any of the allegations detailed in the lawsuit.
But its CEO, T.D. Smyers, said they have worked hard to make sure the staff reflects the area’s diverse population.
“United Way of Tarrant County has a diverse staff which represents our diverse community,” said Smyers, who also chairs at city-sponsored task force charged with fixing the much-maligned Las Vegas Trail neighborhood in west Fort Worth.
“We made hard choices last year as part of a reduction in force — choices we did not take lightly — to ensure we continue to fund our partners and programs and invest in the community,” Smyers said. “We remain committed to our mission of providing leadership and harnessing resources to solve Tarrant County’s toughest social issues.”
United Way of Tarrant County has 61 full- and part-time employees, with two-thirds age 40 or older and 85 percent female, according to an emailed statement. The United Way’s workforce is 39 percent white, 33 percent black and 23 percent Hispanic, according to the agency. Those figures include employees who work with the Area Agency on Aging, which is a part of the United Way of Tarrant County, a spokeswoman said.
The leadership team for the United Way is comprised of 10 executives all older than 40 who are at least vice presidents, according to the statement. The leadership team is made up of three white men, three white women, one black woman, one Hispanic man and two Hispanic women, according to the emailed statement.
Price dismissed the employee breakdown, saying the United Way’s response of “see how many black people we have working for us, we can’t be racist” is akin to saying “I have black friends, I can’t be racist.”
Price is the third African-American executive — out of five — in senior leadership positions who have been fired and replaced with white employees, according to the lawsuit. Price was replaced with a 36-year-old white male with no information technology experience, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also charged that Price was subjected to age discrimination and retaliation.
The lawsuit states that the United Way’s preference for white males and culture of discrimination was made clear by the leadership team’s exclusion of Price and another African-American male from executive meetings.
‘No one over 50’
Price was paid less than white employees with similar titles and was excluded from meetings and committees, such as the web-based technology committee, in which he should have participated. When asked, then-CEO Tim McKinney said that “no one over 50 would be allowed on this committee,” the lawsuit stated.
McKinney, who declined to comment, retired last year from the United Way.
Price’s lawsuit also alleged that there were other ageist elements to the patterns of discrimination that prevailed at United Way. When a 56-year-old African-American woman expressed interest in the chief executive officer’s position, McKinney allegedly stated, “Isn’t she too old?” according to the lawsuit.
Marilyn Jones, former executive vice president of community development at United Way and an African-American woman, settled her discrimination lawsuit with the charity for an undisclosed amount, according to court records.
Coneisha Sherrod, who was fired from the United Way on March 3 of last year after working there since Oct. 2013, filed a discrimination lawsuit, which is pending in federal court. Sherrod, a former vice president of human resources, claimed she was fired because she stood up for Jones and said her lawsuit had merit.
The three lawsuits follow layoffs of about a third of United Way staff and a $2 million decrease in donations for the 2016 campaign, according to articles previously appearing in the Star-Telegram. The United Way got $15.9 million in contributions during it’s 2015-2016 campaign, but only $13.9 million during the 2016-2017 campaign, according to their figures.
The United Way campaign for 2017-2018 is in progress.