Monday, January 2, 2023, 6:50 pm
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Last Friday, Ashley Farmer's attorney Jim Waide filed her voluminous Reply, including 37 exhibits, to the city of Greenwood and its Convention and Visitors Bureau's ("GCVB") motions for summary judgment. Farmer's filing argues that the court should deny the GCVB's requests to toss Mrs. Farmer's lawsuit.
Farmer is suing both the city of Greenwood and its CVB for racial discrimination in its hiring of the previous executive director, Mr. Patrick Ervin. Farmer claims that the CVB refused to hire her, the most qualified person to apply for the position, because she is white.
To see our original reporting on this lawsuit, view here:
Ashley Farmer sues Greenwood, Convention and Visitors Bureau for racial discrimination
Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau hires Ashley Farmer as interim executive director
The GCVB denies Farmer's claims, in particular:
The CVB had legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons with respect to all of its employment actions and decisions regarding Plaintiff [Ashley Farmer].
. . . The CVB denies that Plaintiff has any basis or facts to support any claim that the CVB intended to discriminate against her on the basis of race.
But Farmer has provided the court with damaging evidence regarding racism in the GCVB's decision process, including two video exhibits from coverage of public meetings by The Taxpayers Channel.
Farmer, a lifelong Greenwood native, has worked for the GCVB since 2017, for part of that serving as interim executive director. She describes what she views as racially inappropriate questions posed by some of the GCVB board members during her interview for the job as executive director:
Each board member asked one question.
Dorothy Randle (black) asked, "I don't want to make this a black and white thing, but what are you going to do -- for our side of town (the south side of town)."
Eddie Cates (black) asked Farmer what she was going to do for the black peewee football team.
Farmer was taken aback and confused by the inappropriate racial questions and did not know what
they wanted her to say.
At the end, Judge Betty Sanders (black) repeated Randle's question, "What are you going to do to promote south Greenwood?"
Farmer was caught off guard and did not have an answer. Farmer believed the questions were racially motivated.
In the end, the GCVB Board voted along racial lines, with the four white board members voting for Farmer, and the seven black board members voting for Patrick Ervin.
Mr. Ervin, who is black, lived in Greenville some 50 miles away, and intended to commute to Greenwood. He had no previous experience in tourism promotion or the hospitality industry, but several board members believed that he was qualified and gave an impressive job interview. He served only five months before resigning to take another job in Indianola.
Suresh Chawla, the board president who abstained from voting on the matter, described during his deposition how the whole process was so contentious, and there was so much division along racial lines, that after the board meeting, he resigned.
According to several board members, Mr. Ervin regretted taking the job:
Even Ervin agreed that Farmer would have been a better executive director, since he told Sara Jones that he did not know what he was doing. Further, Jones testified:
"[Ervin] would just mention that he didn't feel like he ever knew what to do with himself. He wasn't really prepared and didn't feel - - I don't think he ever said specifically that he didn't feel qualified, but he did say at certain points that Ashley would have been a better candidate. I remember having that conversation once."
Ervin told Sara Jones that he should have stayed in Greenville.
Finally, Ervin told Karyn Burrus that the Board should have just hired Farmer because she deserved the job.
The GCVB board still votes along racial lines, according to Farmer's filing. For example, the summer 2022 vote on the board chairmanship split precisely along racial lines between the white and the black nominees.
Some of the board members, both black and white, have stated that the board is racially divided. For example, Farmer's brief describes this telling exchange after her lawsuit had been filed:
At an official CVB board meeting [in June 2022], Judge Sanders [Betty Sanders, a board member representing Ward 3] said that "race was at the base" of all of the heated disagreements when she first came on the Board. . . .
Steven Cookston [another board member] responded, "Right, we are getting sued exactly for that. I appreciate you pointing that out."
Karyn Burrus [another board member] then added, "That's why we are getting sued."
Farmer points out that the city council of Greenwood has its own racial conflicts:
. . . At the December 20, 2022, city council meeting, there was argument between Council members, Dorothy Glenn (black) and Andrew Powell (black).
After Powell re-nominated Cyndi Long (white) to be on the CVB, Glenn asked Powell, "Why don't you select some other people that look like us?"
Powell found out that in Greenwood local government, your vote must be for your own race, or there will be consequences.
Farmer's filing summarizes her evidence of racial prejudice against her as follows:
Most employment decisions [by the GCVB board] have been made along racial lines. The vote to hire Ervin instead of Farmer was 7-4 along racial lines. The vote to cut Farmer's salary was 5-4 strictly along racial lines. The decision to make McQueen the chairman and not Long was along racial lines.
In light of the undisputed evidence about Farmer's outstanding qualifications, a jury may reasonably infer that the black members are voting against Plaintiff because she is white. The CVB Board did not offer the job to Farmer after Ervin left, even though she finished second to him in October 2021.
CVB Board member Judge Betty Sanders admitted that "race is the base" of the Board's disagreements. Board members Cookston and Burrus concurred with Judge Sanders. Even more importantly, none of the black members of the Board disagreed with Judge Sanders' admission against interest.
Other evidence from which a jury may draw a racially discriminatory intent is as follows:
1) Ervin admitted Farmer would have been a better candidate; 2) Ervin told Karyn Burrus that the Board should have just hired Farmer because she deserved the job; 3) Ervin told Stephen Farmer that he was afraid Ashley would quit and he could not do his job without her; 4) Ervin told Stephen Farmer that Ashley was the person who should have had this job and he cannot believe that they interviewed him; 5) Ervin told Farmer that he did not know what his duties were or what he should be doing; 6) Ervin told Farmer, "I'm not sure what I'm doing here. They had their director, but you just needed help;" 7) After Ervin resigned, Ervin told Farmer that he was going to speak to Board Chairman Andrew McQueen on her behalf and tell him that he thought Farmer should be made the executive director; 8) and finally, when Burrus told McQueen that Farmer was doing a great job and she should be the executive director, Board Chairman McQueen responded, "You're right."
Farmer asks the court to deny the GCVB's motions for summary judgment against her, and allow her lawsuit to continue forward.
To read Farmer's reply brief, see here: Farmer Reply Brief to GCVB Motion for Summary Judgment
To read GCVB's motion for summary judgment brief, see here: GCVB Brief Supporting Motion for Summary Judgment
John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel
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