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Ashley Farmer, Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau settle federal discrimination lawsuit

Thursday, February 16, 2023, 5:03 pm News Flash Archive

At a court-administered settlement conference yesterday, Ashley Farmer and the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCVB) settled their long-running racial discrimination lawsuit.

The four-hour long settlement discussion took place before the United States Magistrate Judge Jane Virden on February 15.

And today, federal district court Judge Debra Brown dismissed a pending motion as moot, and cancelled the jury trial that was set to take place April 17.

The notice of settlement, along with today's court order cancelling the trial, may be seen here:

Minute Entry for Settlement Conference

Order Cancelling Jury Trial

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and probably never will be.

Farmer sued the GCVB and city of Greenwood for racial discrimination after the GCVB board turned her down for the job of Executive Director back in late 2021. The board voted along strictly racial lines to hire a black man, Patrick Ervin, for the job.

Farmer claimed she was the best qualified candidate for the job, but that the board refused to hire her because she is white. See our original reporting here: Ashley Farmer sues Greenwood, Convention and Visitors Bureau for racial discrimination

Ironically, Ervin lasted only five months on the job and then resigned. After some dispute, the GCVB board then appointed Ashley Farmer as interim executive director, while an out-of-town search organization solicited candidates for the executive director position. Farmer applied again, and this time was appointed by the board. See our reporting here: Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau offers executive director job to Ashley Farmer

Meanwhile, Farmer's case continued on, to the surprise of many. Her attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, filed a vigorous opposition to GCVB's motion for summary judgment, in which the board sought to have Farmer's lawsuit dismissed. See our analysis of the arguments and of Farmer's defense against the motion to dismiss here: Replies filed by Ashley Farmer in her racial discrimination claim against Greenwood and its Convention and Visitors Bureau

Farmer had also originally sued the city of Greenwood, claiming it was somehow responsible for the discriminatory action of its subsidiary GCVB commission.

The dispute centered on the question, was the GCVB Executive Director ultimately a city employee, or only an employee of the GCVB?

The court summarized Farmer's argument thusly:

. . . because the Commission was "created to carry out the City of Greenwood's function of attracting tourists," it is an agent of the City and the City "is liable under a respondeat superior liability basis for the discriminatory hiring decisions of its agent."

The court summarized the city's argument thusly:

. . . Mississippi considers the Commission [GCVB] a separate legal entity; because all of Farmer's allegations are directed at the Commission rather than the City, there are no facts that "show[] any agency by the City. . . . "

This was a hotly disputed legal question, but ultimately the federal court did grant Greenwood's motion for dismissal of Farmer's claims against the city.

The court concluded:

Because there is no indication that the City intended the Commission [GCVB] to act as its agent or that Farmer otherwise had an employment relationship with the City as opposed to the Commission, Farmer fails to allege that the City is her employer under Title VII. Accordingly, the City's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Farmer's Title VII claims will be granted.

To view all the court's reasoning why the city ought not to be held liable, see here: Order Dismissing the City of Greenwood

Once Greenwood was dismissed from the case, it was well postured for a confidential settlement between Farmer and the GCVB, which has now indeed taken place.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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