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Discrimination claims lead to housing authority settlements, policy changes

Updated May 11, 2017 - 7:38 pm

Allegations of discrimination from two former employees have led to $177,500 in settlements and prompted policy changes for the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority.

The agency, which provides public housing to thousands of low-income Clark County families, is also fighting a gender and racial discrimination lawsuit from former Director of Affordable Housing Shannon Gammie.

The settlements come after a 2014 investigation into former Executive Director John Hill’s treatment of female executives at SNRHA. Law firm Parker Nelson & Associates conducted the investigation and found Hill “unknowingly engaging in subtle forms of gender discrimination,” according to Review-Journal archives.

SNRHA Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Dora LaGrande said policy changes have been made after the allegations.

Previously, SNRHA’s Human Resources Department reported directly to the authority’s executive director. Now, human resources can bring allegations to the board of commissioners if officials find it necessary to bypass the executive director.

“To the degree that you can foresee and manage those things, we are taking every precaution our agency can to prevent that from happening,” LaGrande said.

In March, SNRHA commissioners agreed to pay former Director of Human Resources Sharon Williams $160,000. Former Director of Procurement Deborah Laine, who filed a federal lawsuit, settled for $17,500 the same month.

Williams and Laine could not be reached for comment. Gammie declined to comment through her attorney, Nicholas Crosby.

Hill, now the executive director for the Rochester Housing Authority in New York, could not be reached for comment. His tenure at SNRHA ended in April 2016 after a majority of the agency’s commissioners voted to modify his contract. The original contract was set to expire in September 2018.

SNRHA’s commissioners are still searching for an executive director.

Laine and Gammie’s lawsuits allege they were mistreated because they are white females.

Hill fired Williams and Gammie in April 2015 after discovering they emailed SNRHA commissioners. Hill had ordered senior staffers not to communicate with the commissioners without his approval.

Gammie’s lawsuit alleges two black, male employees also emailed the board but kept their jobs.

Laine’s lawsuit says she was subjected to unwarranted discipline because she refused “to look the other way” when Hill engaged in “sexually discriminatory behavior.” She resigned authority in January.

Gammie and Laine also said they were paid less than male executives, that female employees were sometimes required in meetings to raise their hands before speaking and that only female employees were told to take meeting notes.

Gammie’s lawsuit alleges SNRHA participated in discriminatory hiring practices and that she was told multiple times that she was hired because Hill needed a “white woman on his executive staff.” Laine’s lawsuit alleged she was pressured to award contracts to “African American businesses.”

The housing authority denied the allegations in court filings. All of Laine’s allegations except the equal pay claim were dropped or dimissed before the case was settled.

Parker Nelson & Associates attorney Theodore Parker, who represents SNRHA, wrote in an email that he is unaware of any other ongoing lawsuits filed by employees.

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477- 3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter

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