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County agrees to settlement in prison discrimination suit
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Effingham County commissioners approved a settlement between a former Effingham Prison employee and the county, resulting from the employee’s federal discrimination lawsuit.

Richard T. White sued former interim warden Vickie Brown and the commissioners for job discrimination. The suit was filed Nov. 2, 2015, in the U.S. District Court in Savannah.

County commissioners agreed to a $30,000 settlement with White. According to county attorney Lee Newberry, the county’s policy with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia covers $15,000. The remaining funds will come out of county funds.

White worked under Brown from June 3, 2011, to Oct. 4, 2014. He had seven years as a corrections officer, serving for three-and-a-half years at Effingham Prison. When White left Effingham Prison, he held the rank of correctional sergeant.

White was promoted to sergeant on May 16, 2012, turning from an hourly position to an exempt status, and that reclassification became a central method for discrimination, his suit alleges.

According to his suit, White planned to stay in corrections and had his sights on becoming a Department of Corrections instructor. White charged that his immediate supervisor, Gerald G. Frazier, an African-American unit manager, treated him “differently, less favorably” than African-American employees who were White’s peers under Frazier.

White, who is white, said Frazier and the favored co-workers earned fixed salaries based on employees meeting an 80-hour minimum schedule. But they would have been required to work beyond 80 hours per person per pay period in order to fulfill the commensurate duties.

White alleged he was “consistently scheduled … for an unfair portion of uncompensated hours in order to relieve” the favored co-workers from working the same uncompensated time. White was consistently assigned 100-plus hours per pay period and was compensated at a fixed salary.

Frazier assigned White back-to-back shifts, including quick transitions from day-to-night shifts and routinely assigned him to work overnight, weekend and holiday assignments outside the normal schedule, according to the lawsuit. According to the filing, the favored co-workers rarely were assigned back-to-back shifts, overnights, weekends or holidays. When they did draw those shifts, they were allowed leave from a regular assignment as compensation, and White did not receive such make-up leave.

Such “schedule-rigging” put White at greater risk at an already dangerous workplace, the suit charged. When White challenged the practice during an excellent performance review, Brown noticed the plaintiff’s hours to tell Frazier to reduce the hours.

Frazier then retaliated against White, he alleged, by scheduling too few hours for him and in turn deducting his paid leave time to meet the 80-hour minimum. Later, a lunch break accounting system was put in place, but White was not allowed to count the 30-minute break toward his 80 hours, but the favored co-workers were allowed to do so.

White charged that Frazier “tampered with relevant personnel records in a deliberate and malicious effort to eliminate evidence of this lunch-break accounting scheme.” White kept copies of the pertinent records.

White also said Frazier threatened him with physical violence, but no action was taken against the supervisor when the incident was reported.

Brown has been relieved of her duties at the prison. Brown was named interim warden in March 2014, after Ronald Spears resigned in light of an investigation into re-selling confiscated cell phones. Commissioners hired veteran prison administrator Billy Tompkins as warden in December.