State Settles Court Clerk's Discrimination Claim for $60K | Off Message

State Settles Court Clerk's Discrimination Claim for $60K


  • Piotr Adamowicz | Dreamstime
The State of Vermont paid $60,000 earlier this year to settle claims by a former court clerk that said she was fired in 2018 because she is Black.

The settlement came on the heels of a separate investigation by the judiciary last summer into allegations that the former clerk’s supervisor, Tammy Tyda, made racist comments about Black people while on the job.

Tyda is still employed as a court operations manager in Caledonia County following what the judiciary described as “appropriate” discipline, without releasing further information.

The former clerk, Shanda Williams, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in 2019, claiming she was subjected to a hostile work environment as the only Black employee at the Washington County Courthouse in Barre. Tyda, Williams’ supervisor at that time, would “constantly bully and scream” at her, court filings alleged, while white coworkers purposefully undermined Williams’ work by refusing to help her and, in one instance, hiding a file she needed.

Williams, who was employed as a temp, was terminated in July 2018. Tyda told her the position was eliminated because of lack of work, but the former clerk alleged that a nearly identical job was posted soon after.

Last May, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office asked a federal judge to dismiss the case on the grounds that Williams’ initial filing was scant on evidence of discrimination. Williams had noted that she was the only Black worker in the Barre office. But the state argued that, because only 1.4 percent of Vermont's population is Black, Williams' "office was more diverse than Vermont generally."

Last summer, as the civil case was pending, employees at the Caledonia County Courthouse in St. Johnsbury, where Tyda had been transferred, came forward with new allegations of racism.

In a written complaint to the court administrator's office, Vermont State Employees’ Association shop steward Michelle Bachand relayed accounts of statements Tyda made to other court staff as they watched Black Lives Matter demonstrators gather outside on June 3, 2020.

“Have you ever lived in the South? Because I have,” Tyda was alleged to have said, according to the June 15 complaint. “And there are tons of them there. They walk around like THEY are superior/better to US.”

The employee to whom Tyda was speaking could not remember whether the supervisor had said “superior” or “better,” Bachand wrote, but was disturbed by the encounter. A security guard corroborated the employee's account, according to the complaint.

The employees told three weeks after the complaint was lodged that they still hadn’t been interviewed by the judiciary and that Tyda hadn’t been placed on leave.

By that point, Williams’ attorney, John Franco, was arguing in unrelated court filings that the Tyda's recent comments showed that she “harbors a self-expressed racial animus towards African-Americans.”

Reached by phone, Tyda declined to comment for this story.

In response to questions sent to court administrator Patricia Gabel, the judiciary’s contracted counsel, Susan Gilfillan, of McNeil, Leddy and Sheahan, told Seven Days last week that the judiciary hired another attorney to investigate the claims. The review concluded in mid-August.

“We determined that some of the complaints that were made had been substantiated,” Gilfillan said. She refused to specify.

Gilfillan did say that as part of the judiciary’s response, Tyda was required to undergo implicit bias training. Gilfillan later clarified that all judiciary managers attended the course, which was held in October and November 2020.

“We are reformatting the course content to deliver it to all other employees of the Vermont Judiciary,” she wrote in a follow-up email.

The state and Williams settled the civil case in January, though the state did not admit wrongdoing as part of it.

Franco said in an interview on Monday that state officials did not follow up with him after the case was settled to inquire about the facts surrounding Williams’ termination. He said that failure seems to run contrary to the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Plan, which requires the Department of Human Resources to “monitor the procedures and disciplinary actions of all alleged discrimination and harassment cases to ensure that State policies and procedures are followed.”

“I gotta say, I consider that disturbing,” Franco said. “It’s nice to have these plans, but if they’re not followed up on, they’re just another state study that was put on a shelf and ignored.”

Gilfillan said the judiciary "will continue to closely monitor our operations to ensure our employees comply with our professional conduct standards."

Employees classified as races other than white made up 4.1 percent of the state government workforce in fiscal year 2019, according to data contained in the EEO plan. Federal data put the proportion of minority members of the population in the broader Vermont workforce at 5.2 percent.

“These figures indicate that the State of Vermont has room for improvement to narrow this gap,” the report states.

Last month, weeks after the Williams settlement was signed, the court administrator placed Tyda on a “special assignment” related to recently introduced court software, the judiciary confirmed.

Gilfillan said the assignment was unrelated to the employee claims about Tyda.

Though Tyda’s title remains the same, Gilfillan said the state has not yet decided whether she will eventually return to her previous duties.

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