Fort Worth

United Way discriminated, retaliated against her, she said. Here’s what the jury said

An African-American woman who filed a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against United Way of Tarrant County has been awarded more than $431,000.

Coneisha Sherrod, a former vice president of human resources for United Way of Tarrant County who was fired from her position on March 3, 2017, filed a lawsuit claiming she was fired because of her willingness to testify about business mistakes and discriminatory practices pervasive within United Way management.

A federal court jury in Tarrant County found the agency retaliated against her and awarded her the damages. Sherrod earlier dropped the discrimination claim.

The charitable organization plans to appeal the verdict, a United Way official said.

Sherrod had worked for the United Way since October 2013.

United Way of Tarrant County said in a statement it was disappointed in the jury’s decision, which was handed down Friday.

“While we are pleased charges of race discrimination against our organization have been dropped, we also maintain Ms. Sherrod was terminated for just cause and look forward to prevailing in appeal,” the statement said. “In the meantime, we will move forward with fulfilling our mission to provide leadership and harness resources to solve Tarrant County’s toughest social challenges.”

Brian Sanford, Sherrod’s attorney, said he does not believe the United Way can make an appeals case strong enough to overturn the jury verdict.

“We survived two motions to dismiss on the discrimination claim,” Sanford said. “The damages would have been the same. The discrimination claim underlies the retaliation claim and dropping the discrimination claim made the jury instructions simpler. It was strategic on our part. There would still only be one answer. We had enough evidence to show discrimination. We had indirect evidence of discrimination, but had direct evidence of retaliation.”

Sherrod said she believes she was fired because she stood up for another black woman who filed — and later settled — an earlier lawsuit against United Way.

Marilyn Jones, the former executive vice president of community development, filed a lawsuit based on race discrimination and retaliation in December 2016, claiming she was paid less than other United Way Tarrant County executives with similar job titles and was denied a chance to compete for the chief executive officer position when it became available.

Jones, like Sherrod, complained to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the treatment she received. Sherrod’s lawsuit said she was fired a day after she told United Way executives about her complaints to the federal government.

The Jones lawsuit was dismissed July 27 after the two parties entered into a settlement agreement, according to court documents. The details of the settlement were never made public.

A third lawsuit filed by an African-American United Way of Tarrant County executive, Michael D. Price, was dismissed by a federal judge in January. Price’s attorney, Courtney Perez, said she plans to appeal the dismissal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Price’s lawsuit described a culture of racist behavior that included inappropriate comments and emails that circulated among the non-profit’s executives and community leaders.

This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.