ROCKING THE BOATFOUR BLACK WOMEN CHALLENGE WHAT THEY SAY IS RACISM AND SEXISM AT DES WHEN GLORIA MITCHELL came to Arizona in 1961, the young mother figured she'd finally escaped the poison in her hometown of Goldsboro, North Carolina. In Arizona, no one

Still, as the years went by and civil rights laws were passed and enforced, Mitchell sensed that racism was dying down in Arizona.

After her kids grew up, Mitchell got a high school diploma and earned a social sciences degree from Phoenix College. In 1987, she landed what she thought was a dream job-a clerical slot with the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the state's social-services agency. "I was happy to be with the state," she says. "I thought if I worked very hard, I'd get promoted."

Despite excellent job reviews, however, she was passed over for promotions. Most of the jobs went instead to white women. Last month, Mitchell-Raibon (she since has remarried) filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Phoenix, alleging that the state of Arizona discriminates against black women.

Two other black women who are longtime DES employees, Arnita Petty Diggs and Joyce Williams, have filed similar racial/sexual discrimination complaints at the federal commission. Diane Brooks, a fourth black woman, plans to file her complaint with the federal commission later this month.

The stories the women tell are in some ways very similar. All four are self-starters and high-achievers who put themselves through college or trade school in order to climb the career ladder. All four continued on with some form of educationÏon their own time-after hiring on at DES.

All four have received superb job reviews with perfect to near-perfect ratings.
Ironically, one of the women names George Logan, a black man who until recently was a high-level manager at DES, as one of her tormentors.

The women also are angry with another black man, Sylvester Mabry, who heads the DES office that monitors how the agency treats minority employees. The women have filed racial-discrimination grievances with this office, but the grievances were found to be without cause. In another bit of irony, the women in some cases were championed by white male co-workers.

The women say their charges of racism were downplayed by the Governor's Office and virtually ignored by outgoing DES director Linda Moore-Cannon, who resigned last week amid criticism from legislators that the agency was poorly managed.

In an interview with New Times shortly before her resignation, Moore-Cannon said DES "emphasizes cultural diversity" and hires at least the same percentage of blacks that exists in the population as a whole. Only one official, Representative Sandra Kennedy, took up the women's cause. Kennedy, a black woman, also was Moore-Cannon's most vocal critic. "I most definitely believed the women. They didn't have a chance at promotion," says Kennedy.

Even DES officials acknowledge turbulence inside the huge agency.
In the past year, says Mabry, his office has investigated 78 complaints filed by employees alleging racism. He says he doesn't have statistics on the number of complaints that were found to be valid.

Mabry says the "polarization" among DES employees hinges on low morale in an agency where employees are underpaid and overworked. But he contends that the allegations of racism also may be set off by events like the candidacy of ex-Ku Klux Klansman David Duke and law professor Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Anything that polarizes society nationally spills over into our work force and affects the behavior of employees and sometimes affects management style," says Mabry.

But the DES official says allegations of racism only make things worse. "One of the best things people can do to avoid polarization is to stop inflaming our work force with allegations of racism," says Mabry.

The four women say they couldn't disagree more. They say that they want to stop discrimination. The complaints they recently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they say, are simply a preliminary step to filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. They want to rock the boat.

Two of the women claim that they already have suffered retaliation since accusing the agency of racial and sexual discrimination. They contend that they were assigned to menial jobs once they filed grievances. Another woman says she was sexually harassed.

Sylvester Mabry says there is no discrimination against black women in DES.
"Our job is to make sure everybody is treated equally," says Mabry. "If you're an Afro-American and you represent true equality, they'll say you're an Uncle Tom or you are in with the Establishment, or that you don't have any power to change anything. They try to discredit me to legitimize their allegations."
Hogwash, says the women's advocate Bette Richards, a white attorney who is a DES hearing officer and a union steward for the DES branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"If DES management admitted racial discrimination took place, then there would be a basis for recovery in court," says Richards. "Internal investigations for affirmative action simply delay things and discourage people from filing lawsuits against the state."
There is one thing Sylvester Mabry says that the women probably would agree with: He calls DES Ôa Mount Saint Helen's" of dissension.

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