Local News

Suits allege discrimination in state purchasing office

Posted July 16, 2009 4:39 p.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2009 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Two black women have sued the state Department of Administration, alleging that they were passed over for a promotion because of their race and gender.

Yvonne Holley and Mildred Christmas are seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuits, which were filed Wednesday. They also want the state to clarify its policies on employment discrimination and provide more training for managers.

Both women work in the state Division of Purchase and Contract and applied for the job of state purchasing administrator three years ago. They were among eight candidates deemed highly qualified for the job – they were the only black women considered for the promotion – but the position eventually went to a white man.

Purchase and Contract directs more than $4 billion in state equipment and service purchases each year.

"My father fought too long and too hard versus discrimination and segregation, and I cannot allow someone to discriminate against me," said Christmas,the daughter of the late civil rights activist Ralph Campbell.

An investigation last year by the state Office of Administrative Hearings found that black women made up about one-third of the employees in Purchase and Contract but accounted for only 5 percent of promotions in the department over a seven-year period.

The state Investigators ruled there was a clear pattern of disparity in promotions within the department and that managers might have violated the federal Civil Rights Act.

"I almost felt like, at some point, it must be it fell on Mildred and me because of our family history of putting up the fight," said Holley, the daughter of the late WRAL broadcasting icon J.D. Lewis. "At some point, you have to say, 'I have to stand up for myself. You can't do this kind of practice.'"

Department of Administration officials declined to comment on the lawsuits. Last year, they denied the allegations of discrimination and maintained the entire department, including Purchase and Contract, follows fair hiring and promotion procedures.

"We're hoping that, with this lawsuit, that it will make the department (and) the state mindful that you cannot continue to discriminate against us because of the color of our skin," Christmas said.