RALEIGH — North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis was on the witness stand May 18 in an employee discrimination case filed during his time as N.C. Speaker of the House. In the office in 2011 Tillis pushed to remove the director of the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal analysis office.
Marilyn Chism resigned months after GOP legislators took majorities in the state House and Senate. Chism, a black female employee at the General Assembly for 13 years, became director in 2009.
Chism filed complaints and litigation against the General Assembly, accusing legislative leaders of illegally forcing her resignation based on her race and gender. Interrogated by a state government attorney, Tillis denied those two factors played any role.
The case has moved through the federal courts and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2013 ruled she had been discriminated against because of race. An administrative law judge began hearing her complaint this week, and must decide whether bias occurred and if so, whether to order the legislative branch to pay monetary damages.
Tillis testified he wanted Chism out because of her performance in assisting lawmakers assemble the state budget that faced a $2 billion shortfall. Tillis testified his decision was based on input from staff, fellow House Republicans and his own observations, and after consultation with Senate leader Phil Berger.
Chism contends she was forced out by white male leaders and staff within both the House and Senate, and while leaders of other General Assembly divisions – also all white and male – kept their positions. A white male also succeeded her as director.
Her complaint stated a Tillis aide also was unhappy with how the fiscal agency calculated the cost to implement a proposed voter identification bill in 2011, saying it was too high. Black legislators, the NAACP and state Democrats strongly opposed the voter ID bill, saying it would make it more difficult for minority residents to vote.
On cross-examination, Chism attorney Stewart Fisher pressed Tillis why he didn’t meet with Chism to help improve her leadership skills and be more assertive, instead of simply seeking her resignation. Fisher also cited emails showing Chism ready to help House members develop their budget, as well as a presentation she made to House members that ended with a standing ovation, as evidence she did her job ably.
Fisher said Tillis attempted to plug the diversity within his Senate office, including a black woman serving as his legislative director.
Scheduling conflicts meant the case wouldn’t finish May 18. Instead, Administrative Law Judge George Jordan planned to resume the hearing later this year.
Ref. Associated Press – fair use.