Judge Says Alabama College System Discriminated against Women

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Judge Says Alabama College System Discriminated Against Women: Ruling Alludes to History of Gender Bias and "Good-Ol'-Boy" Patronage

An Alabama federal judge has drawn a damning portrait of the state's community college system, describing it as fiddled with gender discrimination and rife with political patronage.

"The state's community colleges, junior colleges and technical colleges are major habitats for the beneficiaries of patronage," U.S. Magistrate Vanzetta P. McPherson wrote.

The judge's disparaging comments came in a sixty-six-page ruling issued this month in a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by three female administrators at two Alabama community colleges. McPherson, who heard the women's case against the system three years ago but did not issue a decision until early June, said the women were denied promotions "because they are women."

But even those who believe the thirty two-college system has been run by a "good ol' boy" network since its inception in the 1960s say it's unfair to cast the entire system in a negative light. They say new blood on the Alabama State Board of Education has altered the system's hiring course and that substantial progress has been made in recent years to hire more women and minorities.

System officials deny there are problems, although they are operating tinder several consent decrees stemming from a class-action lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination.

"I have a problem in that this sort of paints the whole state with the same broad brush," says Dr. Richard Carpenter, president of John C. Calhoun State Community College in Decatur. "We do not all do the same things the same way. And so I think it's unfair to characterize the whole system in Alabama on the basis of this one case."

Carpenter, who became president of the 7,400-student college five years ago and moved to Alabama from California, acknowledges the system "was founded on patronage, and it's been pervasive. But I think it's getting better, not worse. A few years ago, I would not have been hired in this state. I wasn't one of the good old boys, but I was hired anyway."

In the case before McPherson, the judge said that three women -- Karen A. Newton. Myra P. Davis, and Sheryle B. Threatt -- were denied promotions because of their gender. McPherson ordered the college system to give the women jobs that they otherwise would have gotten. She also awarded back pay and benefits to Newton. who contended that she was demoted after expressing interest in a top administrative job at either Northwest Shoals Community College or Bevill State Community College.

Davis says she was denied a post as director of admissions at Lawson State Community College. And Threatt said she was rejected for the position of financial aid director at Lawson State.

Newton's attorney, Joe Whatley, contends that the colleges hired men with fewer degrees and lesser qualifications. He also said Newton has been retaliated against for filing suit. …