Longform

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.

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Terry Greene