Race played a role in an HBCU’s firing of a White employee, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled recently.
"In my opinion, had I been African-American, they would not have fired me," Shira Hedgepeth, who is White and the former director of academic technology at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in North Carolina, told the New York Daily News.
"They had no documentation of any problem with my employment. I was highly regarded as a qualified employee."
Hedgepeth told The Winston-Salem Journal she began working at WSSU in August 2008 and was promoted to director of academic technology in September 2010. But she was abruptly fired in July 2011, she added, right after the university hired a new associate provost and chief information officer.
WSSU has denied that Hedgepeth's termination has anything to do with her race. The department was "going in a different direction" school officials said, as cited in a letter to the university from the EEOC dated Sept. 20, and the new position required "advanced skills in systems and applications programming."
But the EEOC concluded that Hedgepeth's "race, white, was a factor in the terms and conditions of employment and respondent's (WSSU's) decision to terminate her employment." And that was further evident, the commission added, when Hedgepeth was replaced by a non-White individual.
WSSU's hiring decision was not surprising, the plaintiff told the Daily News.
"It became quite obvious that the mission (of the school) was that it was a Black university and that it should be run by Black administrators and Black staff," she said.
According to statistics for fiscal year 2010-11, 67.3 percent of WSSU's employees are Black, 23.9 percent White, 1.6 percent Asian, 0.2 percent Native American, 2.4 percent noncitizens who are here legally, and 1.1 percent Hispanic. The race/ethnicity of 3.5 percent is unclear, a school spokeswoman told the Journal.
According to the EEOC letter, the matter now goes into mediation and if a settlement is not reached, the matter goes to federal court.
Hedgepeth, who remains unemployed, said both she and her family have been hurt by her unlawful termination.
"I'm still damaged. I will never be made whole," she told the Daily News. "Racism is racism; it doesn't matter which way it goes."