In the latest court filings by the state Attorney General’s office, lawyers for the state seek to quash a racial discrimination lawsuit in federal court.
The documents were filed in U.S. District Court in Newport News. The February filings deny allegations of discrimination brought by a former Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation historical interpreter, Laura Hill, against the state agency.
The foundation operates museums and interpretive sites in Yorktown and Jamestown.
The state attorney argues Hill did not file her lawsuit in a timely manner and denied every instance of alleged discrimination. The filings did not argue on the timeliness of employment discrimination charges Hill brought in 2018.
Hill’s lawyer David Branch called the foundation’s allegations baseless.
“The representations by Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation are untrue,” Branch said. “Employee records and emails...confirm that Ms. Hill requested Sundays off and filed a timely (Equal Employment Opportunity) claim and lawsuit.”
Hill sued the foundation due to religious and racial discrimination in its hiring practices and work environment, according to the lawsuit.
In a December 2018 federal court filing, Hill amended her complaint against the foundation to include instances of arbitrariness, hypocrisy and “systemic discrimination.”
On Oct. 26, 2018, Hill’s lawyer filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the foundation citing civil rights violations. Hill’s lawyer amended the complaint on Dec. 6 to include greater detail about the alleged discrimination.
The state Attorney General’s Office referred questions about the case to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. A spokeswoman at the agency said it valued its employees.
“The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation values and respects all members of its workforce,” Tracy Perkins wrote in a statement. “As this is a personnel-related matter that currently is in litigation, the foundation is unable to comment beyond what has been stated in its recent filings with the court.”
Hill, a black woman and long-time historical interpreter at Jamestown Settlement, worked for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for 11 years, the filing states. In that time, Hill said she endured consistent and routine discrimination by her supervisors and coworkers after she spoke up for herself.
The foundation’s filings deny all allegations of discrimination.
Hill was repeatedly disciplined for policy violations by managers who did not follow the foundation’s protocol, the suit said. In at least one instance, an indirect supervisor put Hill in harm’s way either purposefully or with willful ignorance, according to the suit.
Failure to file
By September 2013, Hill had filed a racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her manager. By January 2015, Hill’s manager was reassigned.
The foundation alleges Hill did not file her lawsuit in a timely manner — the EEOC issued a letter to Hill allowing her to sue the state, but it had a 90-day time limit, the filings said. However, the foundation did not opine on the timeliness of two other EEOC charges from 2018 other than to deny the allegations.
On seven occasions between July 2015 and April 2018, Hill applied for a new position but was not hired or selected for an interview despite her education qualifications, merit and experience, according to the filings.
The foundation said it only hired the most qualified people who applied for the positions. The foundation noted the state Office of Equal Employment and Dispute Resolution investigated Hill’s claims and determined there had been no wrongdoing.
On all of the occasions, the foundation hired white staffers, Hill alleged in the suit. However, the foundation said in at least one of those instances they hired a Native American man.
Of those hired, at least two of the new staffers did not meet the education or experience requirements, the suit alleges.
In January 2018, the foundation’s human resources manager, Barbra Hoffman, told Hill the organization only interviewed people who met the educational requirements of a position, according to the court filings.
However, the foundation admitted it hired at least one person who did not meet the preferred educational requirements.
“However, the foundation had routinely interviewed and hired Caucasian staff members who did not meet the preferred educational requirements,” Hill’s filings said. The state denies that claim.
Sundays off for church
Between 2012 and 2016, Hill requested and apparently received Sundays off to attend church, but starting in October 2017 her manager began to arbitrarily deny Hill’s requests to go to church, according to the lawsuit.
The foundation alleges Hill never made it clear to her supervisor that she needed Sunday’s off to attend religious services. Further, the foundation said Hill typically requested the day off less than 72 hours in advance or did not notify her supervisor in a timely manner.
For months, Hill’s manager allowed white workers to take Sunday off while Hill had to work, the court filing said.
When Hill complained to her manager, he continued to schedule her to work on Sundays, according to the court documents. Later, other workers stepped forward to work on Sundays, but Hill’s manager didn’t schedule them. He scheduled Hill.
In one instance, Hill switched shifts with another worker so she could go to church and was disciplined for it, the lawsuit alleges.
The foundation denies that claim.
Both sides seek damages
Three days after Hill was terminated from the foundation on Oct. 23, 2018, her lawyer filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for Hill’s alleged travails.
For the alleged discrimination, Hill seeks no less than $12 million as well as compensation, damages, attorney’s fees, expert fees and costs, according to the lawsuit.
Hill asked for a jury trial in the lawsuit, however, the case has not been put on the docket for a hearing, according to federal court records.
The state attorney has argued the case should be tossed out of court and has asked for Hill to foot the foundation’s legal fees.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.