Monday, February 07, 2011


So what else is new. College of the Mainland was originally designed by union boss Tiny Teague primarily to provide educational opportunities to the Galveston mainland’s black population. It’s first president, Herb Stallworth, suffered from a severe guilt complex and was determined to atone for the sins of his ancestors who had been slave owners in Alabama.

You might wonder why I am posting this story. Well, it’s because this is the dirty little secret of the preferential hiring that is going on at colleges and universities all over the country.

By Chris Paschenko

The Galveston County Daily News
February 6, 2011

TEXAS CITY — The former director of human resources at College of the Mainland claims he was fired because he refused to favor African-American applicants over other races.

The lawsuit filed in federal court against the Texas City college is one of seven brought since 2009 and shows a disturbing pattern of students and faculty claiming civil rights violations, the college’s union president said.

The college’s board of trustees chairwoman and president deny the allegations, saying the educational institution fosters a professional and safe learning and working environment.

Union head David Michael Smith told The Daily News that problems related to the lawsuits began under former President Homer “Butch” Hayes but have grown since the April 2009 hiring of Michael A. Elam as president.

“We have more people alleging serious mistreatment and more people filing lawsuits,” Smith said. “Historically, COM has been a pretty good place to work, but in the last three or four years, it’s become pretty oppressive.”

Former HR Director’s Lawsuit

A November lawsuit filed by attorney Jeremy R. Stone on behalf of Eugene Connors, the former human resources director, is one of four brought in federal court against the college last year. Two of the three filed in 2009 were brought after Elam was hired.

Two lawsuits also are pending in state district courts. The college settled three other lawsuits since 2009, Smith said.

Connors began his career at the college in 2001 when he was hired to direct human resources. He was promoted to associate vice president and worked for a short time as interim vice president of the department.

Connors’ lawsuit names the college and trustees as defendants and claims he was wrongfully terminated in 2009, just shy of 10 years, which would have given him lifetime health benefits.

Connors claims he was fired for several reasons, including testimony he gave in a 2008 civil proceeding. That testimony didn’t favor the college.

The defendants engaged in fraud, oppression and malice, violating his freedom of speech, the lawsuit claims.

Connors also claims the college refused to renew his employment contract, because he didn’t follow its intent to hire African-American applicants over those of other races, who were better qualified, the lawsuit claims.

On several occasions, Bennie Matthews, chairwoman of the trustees, instructed Connors to favor African-American applicants by paying them more money than similarly qualified applicants of other races, the lawsuit claims.

“At times, these demands took place in public board meetings,” the lawsuit claims.

Connors demanded a jury trial and seeks, among other things, damages related to past and future wage losses.

Chairwoman Denies Claims

Matthews, who is African-American, said the claims against her are false. She declined to comment further on the lawsuit, referring The Daily News to the college’s contracted attorney. A message left with the attorney wasn’t returned.

Elam also declined to comment on the lawsuit but defended the college’s learning and working environment under his helm.

The college is in a transitional period with many changes taking place, going from a team approach to a more traditional hierarchy model of accountability.

“There are some people who don’t agree with my style of leadership, but the main thing is employees have to follow policies and procedures,” Elam said. “We’re an open and transparent institution.”

The institution also doesn’t engage in illegal practices, he said.

“I believe in what we’re doing, and many more employees are pleased at the college than disgruntled,” Elam said.

Smith has perpetuated lawsuits, Elam said.

“We’re moving forward and getting better at handling these issues to get them resolved before they get to a level of litigation,” Elam said.

$1.13 M In Legal Expenses

The college’s legal expenses totaled $1.13 million between 2007 and the middle of last year, Smith said.

Defending litigation represented the majority of expenses, Smith said.

The college has dozens, if not hundreds, of tax collection-related lawsuits against property owners during that time, according to state district clerk records.

Elam didn’t immediately know how much the tax lawsuits comprised of the legal expense total.

“More than a dozen employees and students have come forward saying their rights were violated,” Smith said. “People don’t sue at the drop of a hat. It’s stressful, time consuming, expensive, and people fear retaliation.”

Many of the lawsuits allege discrimination, harassment and other illegal practices, Smith said.

Smith brought a First Amendment lawsuit against the college in July 2009, which was settled last year. The other two lawsuits settled were brought by a student, who in May 2006 alleged sexual and racial discrimination, and by COM-Unity, an employee union, which alleged in November 2009 violations of state law on public employee grievances.

The college has about 400 full-time employees, of which 105 are members of COM-Unity, Smith said.

No Doom, Gloom

“It’s a sad day so many faculty and staff have to go through the legal system to have their rights protected,” Smith said.

The college isn’t perfect, he said.

“We always need to do a better job diversifying administration and faculty,” Smith said. “We had pretty good policies in place for faculty and staff. It was much more student centered, because faculty and staff were treated well with respect. That has changed, and it’s not a good change.”

There is no doom or gloom atmosphere at the college, Elam said.

“We have a lot of outstanding faculty and students,” Elam said. “Success is changing people’s lives. They enjoy the environment, and we have high participation rates for faculty and staff on campus.

“Are some people unhappy? Of course. We have 300 to 400 employees. We have some that are not enjoying their environment, but that’s not the rule. That’s going to be the exception.”

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