Georgia college accused of discriminating against black employees


ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) — The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is accused of racial discrimination and retaliation — not once, but three times — by former black employees.

In a discrimination complaint filed last week, a former SCAD professor details several instances in which she felt she was treated “differently” than white faculty members in her department.

In a separate federal lawsuit, a former head fishing coach claims some of his student-athletes called him the N-word, and when he reported these incidents to SCAD leadership, he said they “n ‘had taken no action to remedy the hostile work environment’. , and the abuse continued.

The former employees said they were fired after complaining to their superiors.

SCAD refutes the claims, telling CBS46 Investigates, “All of SCAD’s human resources practices are fair, just and professional.” Read SCAD’s full answer at the bottom of this article.

“Swept Under the Rug”

“It’s more important than fishing,” Isaac Payne said. The former SCAD head fishing coach says he feels like he was lured into a university that preached inclusion and respect – only to face what his lawsuit calls “discriminatory treatment in because of his race” and “retaliation” when he complained to his superiors. .

“I feel like they betrayed me. Remember I’m not just an employee there. I’m an elder,” Payne told CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky: “You need our services for your institution, but you won’t treat us the same.”

As an undergraduate at SCAD, Isaac Payne founded the college’s first fishing club. In 2015, after graduating, he was offered a full-time job as the head coach of the men’s and women’s fishing teams.

According to Payne’s federal lawsuit, most of the abuse came from student-athletes who “frequently referred to Mr. Payne as an ‘n***er’.” But he said it wasn’t just about racial epithets. “It was the idea of ​​’Hey, we’re going to take this coach boat, drive it over a sandbar and tear it to shreds. Like, how would you feel if you went to a competition with these students and those parents, with an athletic director who’s on top of it, with a compliance and human resources department who’s on top of it, and all you say to the coach is ‘keep coaching’.”

According to his federal lawsuit, Payne said he was subjected to “discriminatory treatment because of his race” and “retaliation” when he complained to his superiors.(Rachel Polansky)

Payne said he reported these incidents, among others, to SCAD management, but his lawsuit says they ‘took no steps to address the hostile work environment and the abuse continued. “. Payne claimed, “It was just swept under the rug when I brought it to their attention.”

Eventually – he was fired. But SCAD said in its motion to dismiss that Payne’s dismissal “had nothing to do with his race and everything to do with his unacceptable conduct as a leader”, adding that “SCAD has received a number of disturbing complaints about him”, including:

-“Creating and fostering a culture of harassment and intimidation”

– “Not enforcing the school’s drug and alcohol policy”

– “Disclosing confidential student information to parents of other student-athletes”

“Criticized for being emotional”

Payne isn’t the only former employee to speak out. Former SCAD employee Shantell Colebrook said Payne’s allegations bore striking similarities to hers. “He’s a role model for them,” Colebrook said.

“I think they’re all about their image, but the image is flawed – and I don’t want my color to be used to attract people who look like me,” the former employee explained.

Colebrook taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at SCAD’s Language Studio in 2021. As an immigrant herself, she has found common ground with her international students.

“SCAD was my dream workplace, which is why it’s so painful,” Colebrook told CBS46.

Colebrooke filed a discrimination complaint, in which she claims that
Colebrooke filed a discrimination complaint, in which she claims that “SCAD fired me because I am black and in retaliation for complaining about discriminatory treatment.”(Rachel Polansky)

Colebrooke was also fired. And just last week, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which she says “SCAD fired me because I’m black and retaliation for complaining of discriminatory treatment”.

Her accusation of discrimination also details several instances in which she felt treated “differently” from “white faculty,” including:

– “I was given a more difficult workload than my white colleagues in the department.”

– “I did not receive the same technical or substantive support or training that other teachers, who were white, received.”

– “While SCAD management showed empathy and understanding towards white teachers when they were upset or stressed, I was criticized for being ’emotional’.”

“They were organizing these meetings and laughing at me. “Well, I don’t know where you were educated. I don’t know where you got your degree. The hardest thing for me was pretending I was stupid,” Colebrook added.

CBS46 Investigates found another discrimination complaint from 2019 when college giving director Darnell Holcomb was fired because SCAD said he “did not meet fundraising performance goals.” However, Holcomb said in a court filing, “I believe there is an undercurrent of racial bias among SCAD leaders that causes them to hold black faculty and staff to a higher standard than our white counterparts. .”

Pre-litigation arbitration clauses

In all three cases, the former employees signed “pre-litigation arbitration clauses” when they took up their duties. This is something all new SCAD employees are required to do. This means that if questions or issues arise, they agree to settle them through a legal process called arbitration – rather than in a courtroom, judged by a jury of their peers.

Payne and Colebrooke’s lawyer, Dan Werner, calls it an attempt to sweep discrimination under the rug and argues the clause is unenforceable.

“Because it forces the employee into a procedure that is heavily biased in favor of the employer,” Werner told CBS46 Investigates. “During their orientation of new employees, they signed all the documents you received and among the documents there was a page which, according to the SCAD, subjects them to compulsory arbitration. They didn’t even realize they were required to go through this process until they came to me and I reviewed the documents.

According to data analyzed by the American Arbitration Association, workers received money in just 1.6% of employment arbitration cases in 2020.

SCAD defends its arbitration policies, with a spokesperson stating that “the use of alternative dispute resolution methods is quite common”, adding that “all of SCAD’s human resources practices are fair, just and professional”.

As for Isaac Payne, he’s taking his case one step further — fighting the college’s arbitration policy and past firings — by appealing to a higher court.

“We took the case to court and now we are out in the open. I’m not afraid of SCAD,” Payne said.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that could bar companies from enforcing agreements that require employees and consumers to submit legal disputes to private arbitration. The Democratic-led House voted 222 to 209 to pass the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act. If passed, the FAIR Act will also invalidate pre-dispute arbitration agreements in employment, consumer, antitrust, and civil rights disputes. From now on, the fate of the FAIR Act remains in the hands of the Senate. Proponents believe the FAIR Act would provide more fairness to workers and consumers, while opponents argue it would deprive workers and consumers of a faster and sometimes cheaper alternative to litigation.

Full response from SCAD

SCAD released the following statement to CBS46 Investigates.

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