2 former workers allege racial bias at Fort Worth school district

FORT WORTH -- Two former employees have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Fort Worth school district alleging that they lost their jobs because of their race.

Debra Ware, who managed the Enterprise Resource Planning department, and Latonia Hill, an analyst, lost their jobs last year when their department was eliminated because of a climbing budget deficit.

The two women, who are black, sued the school district, Superintendent Melody Johnson and Chief Technology Officer Kyle Davie alleging that the real reason for eliminating the department was to fire minority employees. They say that white employees were given other jobs in the district and that officials later hired white employees to perform the same job functions that Ware and Hill had.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth.

"They believe strongly that this was racially motivated -- not just the effects of which that are undeniably disproportionate, but they believe that was the true purpose of it as well," their attorney Bill Brewer said.

District spokesman Clint Bond denied the women's allegations. Officials have previously said the ERP department was designed to be temporary as it worked on projects, including converting the payroll system.

"We feel strongly that our equal opportunity employment has a stellar record, and we deny all claims," Bond said.

The suit alleges that employees were notified in June that the department was going to be eliminated, and that their employment would be terminated unless they secured permanent positions elsewhere in the district by the end of August.

The suit alleges that before that announcement, two of the department's white employees were given permanent jobs in the Technology Division.

After the department was closed, the lawsuit alleges that the district hired white employees in the Technology Division to perform the same functions as Ware and Hill.

Hill had worked for the district from August 1994 to September 2009 without a negative evaluation, according to the lawsuit. Ware had been with the district two years, previously working in the Dallas and District of Columbia school districts.

This is the second lawsuit related to the ERP department. Another former employee filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in February, alleging that she was terminated because she alerted superiors about problems with conversion of the payroll system.

The district had various problems with payroll after switching systems in January 2009 that led to overpaying employees and former employees $1.3 million. Officials have said most of the money would be recovered.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700