March 29, 2020

Rights panel votes for UM > No discrimination found against black woman

AUGUSTA — The Maine Human Rights Commission has found that the University of Maine did not discriminate when it rejected a black female candidate for a department head position.

At its meeting Monday, commission members voted unanimously that Dr. Josephine Bright was not discriminated against when she was passed over as a candidate for Continuing Education Division Coordinator of Program Support Services last April. The job was awarded to a white woman.

In doing so, the commission accepted the findings of its chief investigator, Paul D. Pierce, that “there are no reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful race or age discrimination in employment has occurred,” and that her complaint be dismissed.

Commission member James Varner, head of the Bangor division of the NAACP, and an acquaintance of Bright’s, excused himself from the proceedings and did not vote or deliberate in the matter.

Bright’s attorney, David G. Webbert of Augusta, argued that his client was a stronger candidate than the woman who was appointed and that her rejection represented a continuation of an approach to racial matters by a state institution that “unfortunately has a history of this problem.”

Webbert said he had always been bothered by the university’s lack of racial diversity despite its being afforded the ability to “tap into a nationwide pool” of minority candidates with exemplary credentials.

Hiring the 57-year-old Bright was clearly an opportunity to change that perception, he said. Webbert described Bright as a person “with excellent qualifications” and “eminently qualified on paper.”

He said when Bright’s educational background and history of employment at the college level were compared to the woman hired, “One wonders why the other person got the job, not looking at race but looking at resumes.”

Bright holds a doctorate and master’s in the field of education and has eight years experience teaching at the college level. The person hired has a master’s in theological studies and once taught a college course for nine weeks. “She mainly taught high school,” Webbert said.

While saying she was “sorry there isn’t more racial diversity in Maine,” university attorney Patricia Peard responded by noting that Bright was the screening committee’s third choice for the position.

Peard commended Bright’s teaching experience but emphasized that the job she sought was that of a division coordinator. She stressed that a weighty resume “is never the reason a person gets hired.” She said the successful candidate was forceful and knowledgeable during the interview sessions while “it was clear that Dr. Bright did not do well in her interview. … She was not well prepared for this interview.”

Peard said the university was right in its decision. “There is nothing to confess,” she said. “They made a thorough search. They hired the best person.”

Peard added that Dr. Bright was recently offered and accepted a position to teach in the Continuing Education program. “We have engaged Dr. Bright to teach a course at the university,” Peard said.

Prior to the vote, commission member Linda Abromson reminded her colleagues that their job was to decide if Bright was “inappropriately denied the position based on competency or whether or not she was not selected for an unlawful reason. Was it race or was it something else?” Members voted unanimously that it was something else.

Webbert said the commission’s rejection of Bright’s claim did not prevent her from seeking redress at a higher level. He added, however, that his client had yet to decide whether to pursue her case in court.

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