published Friday, November 2nd, 2012

UTC ex-worker sues, claims race, age bias

A black woman who is a former UTC employee is claiming race and age discrimination in her 2010 firing.

Karen Drake, who is over 40, alleges in a Hamilton County Chancery Court lawsuit filed Tuesday that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga replaced her with a white woman, half her age, whom she had trained.

Then UTC prevented her from finding work elsewhere at the college when her position was eliminated, the lawsuit claims.

Drake is asking for her job back along with back pay and benefits, plus unspecified damages for emotional distress.

One reason she was prevented from finding another position, she claims, was that she spoke out about hazing that her daughter, Jasmine Johnson, experienced while attending the school and pledging the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

"In accordance with university policy, we cannot comment on cases currently in litigation," said Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor for communication and marketing.

One of the sorority members, Seirra Smith, faced assault charges in an April 10, 2009, incident in which Johnson claimed Smith and four other sorority members assaulted her. Charges against Smith were dismissed, according to court records.

The women punched Johnson on the head, chest and stomach, poured chocolate syrup and milk on her face, then sprayed vinegar in her face, according to police reports. Johnson went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion, the report states.

Drake worked for UTC's development department from 2006 until 2010.

Drake's attorney, William Schwall, said Wednesday that the lawsuit was filed after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Nashville reviewed her complaint and issued her a "right to sue" letter.

Schwall said Drake is alleging discrimination because of her age, sex and race. But EEOC-derived lawsuits are not protected simply because the employee didn't like a boss's decision, he said

"You have got to show that the employment decision was based on this status," Schwall said. "Fairness is not an element of an employment discrimination lawsuit."

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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