Problems Alleged at Maricopa Skill Center Are Lacking in Evidence

A group of women claim that they've been mistreated by administrators at the Maricopa Skill Center at 1245 East Buckeye Road in Phoenix.
A group of women claim that they've been mistreated by administrators at the Maricopa Skill Center at 1245 East Buckeye Road in Phoenix.
Ray Stern

One of the most shocking claims from the Reverend Jarrett Maupin's news conference this week was that a college instructor was forced to work for many hours each day without a bathroom break.

Gena Radabaugh, an ex-associate instructor of cosmetology at the Maricopa Skill Center at 1245 East Buckeye Road in Phoenix -- one of the schools in the Maricopa County Community College District -- was one of 13 women who appeared with Maupin at Wednesday's appeal for media attention in downtown Phoenix. We skipped the planned event after writing a preview article, but several other media outlets covered it.

After talking to the Radabaugh yesterday to find out more details, we've only grown more skeptical of her story -- and we can't help but wonder if many of the other women's allegations would turn out this weak if investigated.

See also: -Racism, Misogyny, and Worse at Community College District, Civil Rights Leader Says

As we'd reported, Maupin and the women claimed that severe cases of racism, sexual harassment and other problems were plaguing the Skill Center, Gateway Community College and other schools in the college district. In front of the cameras, Maupin said the alleged victims were planning to file a notice of claim against the college district that might ask for as much as $94 million. They say the abuses of students and instructors by district administrators, staff and "higher-ups" are wide in scope and have gone on for many years.

The Skill Center, a division of the Gateway College, has operated as a vocational school since 1962, training students for careers including hair-dressing, massage therapy, meat-cutting and customer support.

Maupin promised in his news release before the event that evidence of some of the allegations in the form of "copies of police reports, video/audio recordings" would be disseminated. However, the various news organizations that covered the event didn't report on any such evidence, if any was offered. There were many shocking claims -- but equally shocking proof needs to back them up.

Maupin says the women will be represented by local attorney David Dow. That may be true, but nothing's been filed yet and Dow wasn't at the news conference. He didn't return two phone messages we left this morning.

Radabaugh describes a three-month period last year that sounds like a form of torture. For several hours of every day, she held an urgent need to urinate because she believed she'd be fired if she left students alone in the classroom.

She was often in pain, once urinated on herself in front of students, and always carried an extra pair of panties in case of accidents, she says. After three months, she developed "bladder problems" that required medical attention, Radabaugh claims.

The Cosmetology department at the Skill Center contains about 25 stations where students learn their trade and perform salon services for the public. Radabaugh made a salary of $36,000 annually as an associate instructor, records show. Between February and April of 2014, she says, she believed that if she left the "floor" where the student cosmetologists were training, she'd be fired.

"I had over 20 students by myself," she says. "I got there at seven-something in the morning and didn't get a break until one or two, when the other teachers came in."

If she was "lucky," she'd get a break at noon. But long before those breaks each day, she'd stifle her need to use the restroom. She says she was told that if she ever left the students unattended, she'd be fired.

The students could take bathroom breaks. But Radabaugh says she had to find another employee to take her place if she left the classroom even for a minute. Her supervisor should have arranged for that, but didn't, she claims.

We ask who told her she'd be fired if she took a bathroom break.

"It's against state board rules to leave when the client is there," she responds, which we thought was an odd answer.

Her supervisor reinforced the rule verbally, she says.

We phoned the supervisor, whom Radabaugh named for us, but she declined comment. We're withholding the supervisor's name for now.

"She said I cannot leave the floor, at no time," Radabaugh says.

We press: Did the supervisor actually say Radabaugh would be fired if she took a quick pee break? (The restroom is just down the hall from the cosmetology classroom.)

Yes, Radabaugh says. The supervisor told her something similar twice in February 2014, and she just assumed for the next two months she'd be fired for taking a quick break. At least one student saw her have a urine accident in the class, she says.

"My bladder got real weak," she says. We ask if she had any documentation from her doctor about the problem. This morning, she emailed a note from her doctor, Marie Santora, a naturopath who was disciplined by the state Board of Naturopathy in 2009 for delegating her duties to untrained assistants.

Dr. Santora writes in the note that Radabaugh's been seeing her since July 2014 "for ongoing complaints about fatigue and stress notably due to her working environment at that time." She and Radabaugh discussed how a change in employment might help her.

"She ultimately had to be hospitalized October 27, 2014 due to complications of her chronic health condition," Santora's note reads.

But that's it -- no more detail, no mention of bladder issues.

Radabaugh's additional documentation of her claim includes two excerpts from policy manual. One states that students cannot work on clients without an instructor present, and that her position was considered "at will," meaning she could be let go for any reason.

Maupin released this photo (taken by a supporter) of Wednesday's news conference.
Maupin released this photo (taken by a supporter) of Wednesday's news conference.

None of the documents provide evidence that supports her claim.

We had to ask: If you had to use the restroom, why didn't you just use the restroom?

"I was told I couldn't take a break," she repeats. Never once did she challenge the perceive rule, she says.

District officials have clammed up on the matter of Radabaugh and the other women -- which isn't surprising considering the lawsuit threat. Students and employees at the Skill Center walked briskly away from us when we threw out a few questions to them. They seemed aware of the allegations presented this week by Maupin, but none of them wanted to comment.

While Radabaugh's story has credibility problems, problems between employees and administrators at the center go back years.

 

Problems Alleged at Maricopa Skill Center Are Lacking in Evidence

Allegations of abuse by administrators at the Skill Center made the news in 2007, following an audit that found "chaos" among the staff and administrators. Sharon McGavick, an outsider auditor then hired by the district, tells New Times she stands by her findings that included cronyism, hiring white people almost exclusively for two years while firing mostly minorities.

McGavick says that while she stayed at the center for two weeks for her investigations, many envelopes containing additional complaints were slipped under her office door.

"The problems were with administration, they way they were running things," she says. "It was tightly controlled from the top."

McGavick moved to Washington after her audit. Chancellor Rufus Glasper, who's black, appointed retired MCCCD human-resources administrator William Waechter to review the audit and make recommendations for change. Waechter, who lives in Gold Canyon, says the assignment was very short-term and he couldn't recall what happened.

We also left a message for John Underwood, the Skill Center's executive director back in 2007. He's now the director of adult education for the East Valley Institute of Technology. We'll let you know if he calls back.

One former administrator of the Skill Center mentioned in McGavick's audit would talk with New Times only if his name wasn't used. He echoed some of the thoughts we'd been having about Radabaugh's allegations -- but with more profanity.

"I think it's an absolute crock of shit," he fumes. "First of all, who as a grown woman doesn't go to the bathroom when they need to go to the bathroom... There's no fucking scenario where this would happen."

The former administrator says "people were laughing" when the 2007 audit allegations came up, because roughly the same allegations had surfaced eight years before.

"This narrative of conspiracy and racism, and it going all the way to the top -- that has been the same narrative since the late 1990s," he says. "The administration has changed four times since then. What remains constant are the people that work there."

The notion that the district only hires "Illuminati-trained racists over and over again" is ludicrous, he insists. When certain people at the Skill Center feel like their jobs are in jeopardy, they "make noise" to preserve their job. It's a lot of "rabble-rousing and crying wolf," he says. "The protections put in place to protect people are being abused."

His opinions are also unsupported by evidence.

KFYI.com did a good job of bullet-pointing some of the allegations made at Wednesday's news conference with Maupin, so we'll quote a few of them here:

"A woman who worked in the Human Resources office said she was sexually harassed by a man who was eventually banned from campus, but he was then allowed to return despite a court-issued order of protection, and he continued to harass her...

"An African-American woman who complained she was passed over for a promotion despite having a master's degree, and the promotion instead went to a white woman who was less qualified...

"A white student who says she observed countless acts of sexual and racial harassment of her fellow students and some district employees...

"A cosmetology instructor who said she was told to instruct her Hispanic students that they were no longer allowed to speak Spanish during their breaks, and when she responded that what the students did on their free time was their business, she was dismissed...

"A former student who said one of her instructors repeatedly touched her, and told her she would be kicked off campus because she was wearing her clothes too tight and talking too loudly to other students...

"A former instructor who said she was told she was being terminated because a coworker had overheard her telling a student that the instructor was praying for the student, who was suffering from depression and threatening suicide."

How much of this was documented remains to be seen, but the possible existence of documentation is clearly implied.

We urge anyone who believes they're being abused in any way by their employer to obtain supporting evidence.

In Arizona, it's legal to record a conversation between two or more people as long as one person knows a recording is being made. If you think your employer is going to say some wild stuff to you, hit record on your smartphone -- they have amazing microphones and can pick up things even when they're in your pocket. (See our 2006 article about former Arizona Department of Public Safety officer Brent Wyatt, who was awarded $190,000 by a jury after he proved by a secret recording that his supervisors were treating him poorly.)

Better yet, get it in writing. It's very easy for an employee to make a verbal accusation against a boss, and just as easy for the boss to deny it. If Radabaugh had asked her boss to put the alleged no-pee-break rule in writing and the boss actually did it -- cha-ching!

Radabaugh, who's married, says she quit her job on October 30 and hasn't found a new one because she's been helping her son deal with college.

We'll update this article if and when the group files its promised notice of claim against the district -- and let you know what new evidence they offer.

The district, through spokesman Tom Gariepy, issued a comment after Maupin's news conference. He stayed away from specific comments about the allegations and encouraged staff and students at the district to file complaints as they felt necessary. See the next page if you want to read the lengthy response, which contains numerous links to information and procedures on how to file a complaint.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Ray Stern on Twitter at @RayStern.

 

Maricopa County Community College District response to Jarrett Maupin's May 6 news conference:

"The Maricopa Community Colleges won't comment on the allegations raised at Rev. Maupin's press conference today. We cannot respond until the claims are filed and we have an opportunity to investigate specific factual allegations.

"Reverend Maupin's press release indicates the complaining parties intend to pursue their allegations through state and Federal enforcement agencies, and they have a perfect right to do that. We will cooperate fully with any investigation that arises from these complaints.

"However, we want the public to know that Maricopa has several means whereby employees, students or anyone else may register their concerns or file complaints. For example, people who have concerns or questions about the operations or services of our colleges may contact the Office of Public Stewardship for general information or to voice a concern. The services of the MCCCD Ombudsperson are the responsibility of the Office of Public Stewardship where students, citizens, and employees may seek informal, neutral, and confidential guidance on concerns.

Maricopa also has taken into account the fact that some people may fear retaliation if they register a complaint. For those people, concerns may be submitted anonymously via the Maricopa Concernline at the following link: https://www.concernline.maricopa.edu/

Also, Maricopa has a set of very specific non-discrimination policies for employees. They are prominently posted on our website at https://chancellor.maricopa.edu/public-stewardship/governance/administrative-regulations/5-non-discrimination

Procedures are in place that allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against to file complaints. They are found here: https://legal.maricopa.edu/civil-rights Students who have concerns about what transpires in the classroom can submit concerns via the instructional grievance process: https://chancellor.maricopa.edu/public-stewardship/governance/administrative-regulations/2-students/2.3-scholastic-standards/2.3.5-instructional-grievance-process-appendix-s-6

If the matter relates to one outside of the classroom, the non-instructional complaint resolution process is posted here: https://chancellor.maricopa.edu/public-stewardship/governance/administrative-regulations/2-students/2.3-scholastic-standards/2.3.12-non-instructional-complaint-resolution

If students believe that they are a victim of identity theft related to financial aid fraud, they can submit requests for investigation here: https://www2.maricopa.edu/identitytheft

There are other internal procedures to handle a wide variety of complaints, and individuals with concerns are encouraged to contact the Ombudsman for confidential guidance should there be any question about the appropriate procedure.

These are not just a series of links on a computer screen. They are real procedures backed up by real policies and people who believe that both as an educational institution and a place to work, Maricopa will not tolerate discrimination or illegal practices of any kind. We take allegations of unlawful discrimination and other forms of misconduct very seriously and provide individuals with multiple points of access to share them with us directly."


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