Former Ag Dept. employee alleges race discrimination, sues Sid Miller

FILE - In this June 18, 2015, file photo, New Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller talks about the state's plans to repeal a decade-old ban on deep fryers in public school kitchens, in Austin, Texas. Miller, a first-term Republican who campaigned as an uncompromising conservative, gave out more bonuses to agency employees in his first nine months in office than his predecessor awarded in his first 2½ years on the job, according to an analysis of personnel data. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A former high-level Texas Department of Agriculture employee alleges she was fired for being African-American, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Travis County District Court.

Shelia Latting, who was a deputy chief financial officer with the department since 2012, says she was set for a promotion and new job as chief financial officer in early January of 2015. But days later the department terminated her due to a “workforce reduction,” the lawsuit states.

“What we have is a very qualified African-American woman… It was a natural transition for her to be promoted to CFO,” said Latting’s attorney Susan Haney. “Somebody was uncomfortable working with an African-American woman.”

The lawsuit states there was no “workforce reduction.” After being fired, the agriculture department quickly created an emergency posting for two positions with essentially the same function as Latting’s previous job, including one with an identical classification number, the lawsuit alleges.

Around the same time the department terminated Latting, it hired Terry Keel, as an assistant commissioner. Keel is a veteran Texas lawmaker and political appointee. He worked previously as head of the Texas Facilities Commission. Two Facilities Commission employees filled the Agriculture Department positions created after Latting departed, according to the lawsuit.

Agriculture Department Spokesperson Lucy Nashed said the department would not comment on pending litigation. The suit names Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller as a defendant.

Nashed did say Latting’s issue had been through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process, including mediation and investigation, and the commission did not issue a cause determination.

Haney said the EEOC’s determination was not binding and did not mean discrimination did not occur.

Racial discrimination cases can be tough to prove, Haney said. “Rarely do people say, ‘I’m firing you because of race.’” However, the details leading up to and following Latting’s termination show she was discriminated against, Haney added.

Latting is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in monetary relief, according to the lawsuit.

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