Judges dismisses lawsuit filed by former DSS director

jalexander@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2013 

Gerri Robinson, former Durham County social services director


— A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the former Durham County social services director accusing her bosses of violating her civil rights.

Gerri Robinson filed the suit in 2012 against the county Board of Commissioners, Department of Social Services board, DSS board Chairman Stan Holt, then DSS Director Gail Perry, and then-Commissioner Joe Bowser. The complaint, however, was aimed largely at Bowser, the only person named as an individual as well as in his capacity as a county official.

The lawsuit said Bowser meddled in the agency’s day-to-day affairs and interfered with contracts. Robinson accused him of defamation and slander and getting her fired.

In his Oct. 16 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge James Beaty rejected an earlier judge’s recommendation that the court hear Robinson’s accusations that Bowser interfered with her contract.

Instead, Beaty granted the defendants’ “motion for summary judgment” on all claims and dismissed the case “with prejudice.” In other words, he found insufficient evidence to bring Robinson’s claims to trial and said she may not refile the lawsuit.

“We agree with Judge Beaty’s decision, and we believe he made the right decision,” said Patricia Holland, a private attorney who represented Bowser.

Efforts to reach Robinson or her attorney, Jack Nichols, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Deputy County Attorney Carol Hammett declined to comment, citing a possible appeal.

Positive evaluation

In her lawsuit, Robinson said that after she was hired in 2009, Bowser encouraged or pressured her to take less severe disciplinary actions against “non-African-American employees” than on black employees committing the same infractions.

Bowser, who is black, at the time said Robinson and her supporters manufactured that accusation in response to him siding with white board members, who unsuccessfully sought to dismiss Robinson six months into her job.

Robinson said she received a “strongly positive performance evaluation” from DSS in April 2011.

In June 2011, the suit continues, she complained about Bowser to then interim County Manager Michael Palmer, Deputy County Manager Marqueta Welton and County Attorney Lowell Siler.

She was fired a month later.

At the time, Holt and Bowser said that Robinson was fired because of her divisive leadership, intense focus and spending on national accreditation, and the department’s fading community partnerships. Letters from longtime DSS employees and a former board member backed up their accounts.

Robinson, however, said the county commissioners and DSS officials violated her civil rights when they ignored her complaints about Bowser, who, she says, in turn maliciously orchestrated her firing.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: http://twitter.com/@jonmalexander1">@jonmalexander1

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