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Women Accuse NAACP of Discrimination : Rights: Gender bias in pay, benefits and opportunities is alleged in lawsuit. $2.1 million in damages sought on behalf of 40 female employees.

March 28, 1995|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Two women have filed a class-action suit against the NAACP, charging the troubled civil rights organization with providing unequal pay, benefits and opportunities for women.

According to legal papers filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Stephanie Rones and Barbara Coggins filed a class-action suit seeking about $2.1 million in punitive and compensatory damages on behalf of about 40 female employees of the organization. The suit also calls for promotions for female workers and a court order to stop the NAACP from continuing discriminatory practices.

Rones, a former assistant general counsel for the NAACP, originally filed a complaint against the organization and several of its officers for sexual harassment and unequal pay. Her suit was revised and resubmitted as a class action when Coggins, national director of ACT-SO, a major NAACP program that promotes educational excellence among students, joined the suit. Coggins charges that she was paid less than half what men holding similar jobs made.

The women argue that "a boys' club" controls decision-making of the organization to the disadvantage of female employees who do most of the work. Professional female employees "were generally not included in the policy-making and strategy sessions of top management," the suit claims.

"Frequently, if they were invited at all, (women) were relegated to so-called 'women's roles,' such as serving coffee or acting as hostesses," the 35-page suit states. "It was widely perceived among (women) that the decision-making at the NAACP was run primarily through a so-called 'old boys' network,' "

The suit contends that the discriminatory abuses have slowed but not ended under the new leadership of Myrlie Evers-Williams, who was elected last month as chairwoman of the NAACP board. Evers-Williams made ending gender discrimination in the organization one of her major goals as she campaigned for the job.

In addition to the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the suit specifically named as defendants many of the senior and male leaders of the organization during the last year, including former board Chairman William F. Gibson; Earl Shinhoster, acting executive director; Fred Rasheed, acting deputy director; Dennis C. Hayes, general counsel; Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., former executive director, and Lewis Myers, former deputy director.

None of the officials cited in the case could be reached by The Times. Shinhoster told the Associated Press that "our posture is to address these issues and dispose of them as fairly and equitably as we can."

Rones, in a lengthy description of abuses she claimed to have suffered during her three-year tenure in the NAACP's legal department, described a series of disparaging remarks made by senior NAACP officials regarding women in the group and women working in civil rights organizations, including references to them as "bitches" and "snitches."

Rones was fired without a grievance hearing in August and has been unable to find a job in the civil rights community ever since, the suit says.

Coggins, who has worked for the NAACP for 15 years, said that the organization misrepresented her salary to major funders who supported the ACT-SO program by an average 50% greater than the $32,000 per year she was paid. When she brought the matter to Chavis' attention, requesting a raise and staff comparable to that given male program heads, nothing was done to address the disparity, according to the lawsuit.

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