City of Augusta faces discrimination lawsuit

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News 12 at 6:00, July 24, 2007

AUGUSTA, GA--Race and sex discrimination on the Augusta commission--that's the allegation made by the city's former Public Works Director, Teresa Smith. Her attorney just filed a lawsuit claiming commissioners fired her back in 2005 because she's an African-American woman.

The lawsuit centers on Smith's interactions with developers. Some people argue she dropped the ball more than once on city projects, but others say that's just a smoke screen masking the real reason: discrimination.

The lawsuit says Caucasian commissioners, including Don Grantham, lead the fight to fire her because Caucasian developers didn't want to work with an African-American female. Grantham says that's not the case.

"There was a lot of uneasiness with architects, with contractors throughout this region that couldn't get cooperation out of that department." Grantham said.

He says that is the reason she lost her job. Commissioner Roy Rearden backs that claim, citing a specific example the night they fired her..

"Warren road is a continual nightmare and embarrassment for our city, regardless of who has failed that falls back on Ms. Smith." Rearden said the night commissioners fired Smith. But she defended herself this way: "No information was provided to me by the assistant pre-construction engineer there was an issue on the wall nor a possibility of error of construction of the wall."

Her lawsuit says during her time on the job, she had no complaints against her on record. Commissioner Marion Williams backs that up...

"Is she perfect? No sir, she's not. Does she have some problems? All of us do, but in her file there is not one negative thing in her file." Williams said.

In a 7-2 vote, commissioners tried to fix some of those problems by splitting the Public Works Department into three divisions. That gave Smith fewer responsibilities; however, Grantham said that didn't work.

"There had been a lot of delays and a lot of complaints with the engineering service department. And the projects were not coming out on time in order to be done." He said.

So the questions remain: Was it poor performance on the job? Or, was smith the sacrificial lamb for the Caucasian developers as the lawsuit claims? There are a lot of questions the courts will have to decide.

Commissioner Grantham mentioned multiple complaints. The city's zoning office says we can take a look at them tomorrow when the Executive Director gets back in town. Teresa Smith is currently at the Public Works Department in Columbia, SC.

Phone calls to Smith and her attorney went unreturned.

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