ROCKING THE BOATFOUR BLACK WOMEN CHALLENGE WHAT THEY SAY IS RACISM AND SEXISM AT DES
When a position opened up in January 1989, she applied. She scored 90 out of 100 on a test to get her old job back. But she was told that now she needed a law enforcement background.
Diggs filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging she was not rehired as an investigator, even though she was qualified, because of her race and sex. That complaint is still pending.
In the meantime, she got back into the state clerical pool-a common path for returning employees-and filed a grievance with the agency. She was told there was no evidence of discrimination in her case.
Her first job in the clerical pool happened to be in DES. Uncomfortable there because of her grievances against DES, she moved to the state Board of Medical Examiners. But almost as soon as she left DES, another investigator's job opened up in the DES division in which she once worked.
When she applied for it, she was told she didn't qualify because she no longer worked at DES. It was the second time she had been passed over.
Diggs since has returned to DES as a clerk. JOYCE WILLIAMS
"The rules are in place to protect black women," says 41-year-old Joyce Williams. "It's just that DES doesn't follow the rules." Looking back at her eight years with DES, she dredges up bitter memories.
In 1984, when she was a clerk who managed a small office in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, she applied for a promotion to become a supervisor in the office. She had been running the office for six months because there had been no supervisor, she says, but the job was given instead to a white nurse's aide who could not type. Williams was told that the nurse's aide answered questions better.
"I was not going to sit there and train that woman to type," says Williams. She transferred back into the state clerical pool, eventually returning to a section of DES that handles unemployment insurance. She advanced beyond the typing pool to become an unemployment-insurance specialist.
Her reviews have been superb: "Joyce is an asset to the unit," one supervisor wrote recently. "She is considered an expert on rules, policy and procedures, is self-reliant in obtaining information, and she rarely needs to seek advice or assistance."
Then, she applied for a promotion. Williams thought she was going to get the job-until she went in for her interview. She says she was questioned about an area of insurance that had never been part of her job. However, an applicant from outside the agency had handled this type of insurance, and knew all the answers to the questions. Williams received low scores in the interview, as did several other finalists.
The applicant from outside the agency, a white man, got the job. Williams filed an internal grievance, alleging that the white DES manager who did the hiring circumvented state hiring laws by manipulating the questions and by hiring from the outside when there were qualified applicants within DES. The state found her complaint to be without merit.
It was her second major frustration in the agency. Her lack of advancement didn't square with the glowing reviews she had received. Now she's ready to duke it out in federal court.
"We have been frustrated and angry," she says of herself and her co-workers Brooks, Mitchell-Raibon and Diggs. "We have worked hard to be next in line for a promotion, and then gotten passed over. We feel used."
Williams says she wrote several letters expressing her frustration to DES director Moore-Cannon, who finally answered after Williams complained to legislator Sandra Kennedy. "Please be assured that I am interested in resolving any problems of discrimination in this department," Moore-Cannon wrote. But she explained that Williams hadn't followed "established procedures for investigating and resolving charges of discrimination."
After Moore-Cannon learned that Williams and the three other women had spoken with New Times, she met with them. Williams says they got no satisfaction, only requests that the women work within "the system." That hasn't worked.
Williams recalls telling the director, "Linda, you know we're right."
GLORIA MITCHELL-RAIBON When Gloria Mitchell-Raibon worked with young black students at Phoenix College, she would frequently find herself trumpeting the importance of a good education. "Some of these kids would just go to get the scholarship money," she says. "They'd go up to the professor and say, ~`Just give me a D so I can get my grant money.' I'd tell them to study so they'd come out smarter."
That's what she herself did, at least. She studied hard so she could get a good job and move up.
In 1987, Mitchell-Raibon signed on at DES. She was eventually stationed to the Office of Appeals, a quasi-judicial unit where cases about various social-services frauds are heard. That is why Mitchell-Raibon became, essentially, a legal secretary. But she was drawing the lower pay of a clerk. Mitchell-Raibon hoped she could be promoted to legal secretary as soon as a position opened up.
In the spring of 1991, five such jobs opened up, but they were filled by white women. Harry McFate, the chief of the Office of Appeals, told Mitchell-Raibon that she didn't qualify because she had no legal-secretary certificate, she says. (McFate, who says he has since been dismissed from DES, wouldn't comment.) Mitchell-Raibon says three of the five white women did not have legal-secretary certificates, either.
Mitchell-Raibon filed an internal complaint at DES, alleging she was not promoted because of her race and sex. The complaint was found to be without merit. "She was not qualified," DES' Sylvester Mabry says.
That's not what Peter Lansdowne, Mitchell-Raibon's boss, said after she was turned down for the job. He wrote a letter to the DES personnel department strongly recommending that Mitchell-Raibon be reconsidered. "She has been performing the duties of a legal secretary for well over a year," wrote Lansdowne, who is white. "The duties which Ms. Mitchell currently performs are identical to those specified for the legal secretary position," he wrote.
Mitchell-Raibon's office supervisor Gabe Menafee, a white woman, also tried to intercede. "Gloria is more than qualified for this position," she wrote in a letter of recommendation. "She would make an excellent legal secretary. She is patient, understanding, caring, attentive and always eager to learn more. Her work habits show she cares by creating a quality product. Gloria shows good leadership qualities in her interaction with people. She is a self-motivator and strives to get the job done. I can always rely on Gloria to do the job and do it well. Please consider my recommendation to place her on the certified list [of finalists] for the position of legal secretary."
Mitchell-Raibon requested that the DES personnel department check into her application to see what went wrong. In November 1991, James Whorl, the director of the personnel department, told Mitchell-Raibon in a letter that she simply didn't qualify for the job.
He also noted that the state Department of Administration, not DES, determines with a complicated rating system who makes the list of finalists for all state jobs. The list of finalists, called the Ôcert list," is then bounced back to DES, which interviews each finalist and chooses the best person for the job.
²It sounds like an equitable system, but it doesn't always work. Bette Richards, the lawyer who is advising Mitchell-Raibon, says she suspects that someone in DES personnel called the Department of Administration with the names of people it wanted on the "cert list." "That's how it's done around here," says Richards. "It just takes a phone call."
DIANE BROOKS remembered when gubernatorial candidate Fife Symington spoke out against racism during a speech to a group of black businesspeople at JJ's restaurant in central Phoenix. She decided to remind him of it in an August 1991 letter. "You spoke of the terrible racial problems in Arizona," Brooks wrote the governor. "Your facial expression led me to believe that you really wanted to make a difference for the black men and women of Arizona. I must now ask, Does this not include employment within state government?" A month later, Normando de Halle, the director of the Governor's Office of Affirmative Action, wrote Brooks that the governor could not respond to her letter. He said it would be inappropriate for Symington, as chief of state, to meet with the women who had pending grievances against the state.
"WASTE OF TIME!" the women scribbled on de Halle's letter. And then they placed the letter in their voluminous files.
"You're passing the buck," the women wrote in a second letter.
A few days later, de Halle met with the women. But the meeting was sour and fruitless. The women say they were angry that their advocate attorney Bette Richards was asked to leave the room before the meeting started. According to state law, a person who files a grievance is allowed to have a representative at meetings with state officials.
"They didn't want the women to have a competent representative," says Bette Richards. She suspects that de Halle "wouldn't want me to testify" about what went on at the meeting.
The women have refused to meet with the governor's representatives again. But all four women say the issue is larger than their individual grievances.
Normando de Halle has since left the Governor's Office, but deputy director Robert Williams says he is not aware "of any grave problem at DES." The Governor's Office, he says, did what it could to help the women. "Normando wanted to deal with this individually," he says. "The group seemed affronted by this."
That seems true. The four women say they want more than to be appeased and have their individual grievances settled. The only way to combat this institutional racism, they say, is to stand together and take the state to court.
"The Governor's Office wanted to stop the women from rocking the boat," says lawyer Richards. "They wanted to handle each girl individually and give her what she wanted, but not talk issues. They did not want to address the overall issue of racism."
The women "don't want to be appeased," says Richards. "They're not working for themselves, but for all black women. I admire them for this."
part 2 of 2
TYSON KO'D HIMSELF THIS TIME... v2-05-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter