HOUSTON, TEXAS. A $100 million racial discrimination lawsuit has been filed in a Houston, Texas state district court on behalf of hundreds of Black present and former employees of the Houston Community College (“HCC”). The suit was intentionally filed Friday, June 19, 2020– “Juneteenth—the anniversary date that Black slaves in Texas learned they had been freed from slavery two years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln. The lawsuit details a damning list of allegations about what has happened at Houston Community College under the leadership of Chancellor Cesar Maldonado and the Human Resources Director, Ms. Janet May. According to the lawsuit, Maldonado accepted his position in 2014 with a Hispanic “preferential treatment” agenda. The suit contains an actual email chain created shortly after Maldonado’s appointment, which states “Now we [Hispanics] are going to receive preferential treatment.” The suit alleges that since Maldonado’s arrival 90% of the long-time Black professionals at HCC have either been terminated or demoted, while there has been a 50% increase in Hispanic hires and promotions. Shockingly, the suit claims, while 90% of tenured and experienced Black employees have been displaced only 10% of similarly tenured White employees have been displaced.
The lawsuit continues with a disturbing list of tactics used by Cesar Maldonado and Janet May to get rid of Black employees. These tactics include, among many others:
- Telling a Black male that a White woman’s word was more truthful than his word;
- When a White person complains, believing them, but if a Black person complains doubting them unless corroborated;
- “Padding” Black employee personnel files with false complaints to be used later as pretexts for firing them;
- When Black employees are accused of harassment, believing the complainant – but if the complaint is made by a Black person, doubting them until HHC can corroborate;
- Using the term “transformation” as a cover for getting rid of Black employees; and
- Forcing Black employees to take leaves of absence without cause to later use as grounds to terminate the Black employee.
If these allegations are proven in court, HCC is in for a bad day at the courthouse.
The named plaintiff in the lawsuit is a 55-year-old Black female, Zelia Brown, who was forced to take a leave of absence when she complained about missing grant money at HCC. She reported that the grant funds had been misused or taken to the federal government, according to the lawsuit. After federal investigators notified HCC officials they were going to investigate Ms. Brown’s allegations, she was immediately told not to return to work and to take a leave of absence. Her locked grant office is said to have been rummaged through while she was on this leave of absence. Although HCC is said to have later asked her to return to work, the return was conditioned on her accepting a false complaint that she had created a hostile work environment and presumably remain silent about the missing grant dollars. Ms. Brown refused to remain silent and filed suit. Tonight, she will speak to the media for the first time.
Zelia Brown is asking the court to approve a class action lawsuit against HCC on behalf of all Black employees who have been terminated or demoted since Maldonado became Chancellor in 2014. It is estimated that the number of class members will be in the hundreds with each member seeking individual damages in the case. Zelia Brown is represented in the lawsuit by Benjamin L. Hall, III, the former Houston City Attorney under Mayor Bob Lanier and former mayoral candidate. Hall stated, “Ms. Brown is one of the more recent casualties of what appears to be a modern-day Jim Crow environment at Houston Community College for Black executives. She is a brave lady to stand up to power and speak the truth. We feel confident there are more victims of HCC’s discriminatory policies who will come forward to tell their stories as well.”
The lawsuit has been filed in the 164th District Court and a copy of the lawsuit as well as the listed exhibits accompanies this press release.