News broke yesterday that a former employee from the Texas Department of Agriculture is has filed suit against current Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. No, it’s not because she wished him “Happy Holidays” and he slapped her. It is because Sheila Latting, a black woman, was promised a promotion, then quickly terminated as an employee and replaced by two less qualified white women.
The Texas Tribune explained the suit:
- “The lawsuit says that Miller — days before he was sworn into office last January — offered to promote Latting to chief financial officer and asked her to lead a budget overhaul at the agency.
Latting accepted the promotion in December 2014, she alleges, and spent the holidays hammering out a budget proposal that would include additional money for Miller’s executive staff. But she returned to the office to find Heather Griffith Peterson, the previous chief financial officer, still in that post, according to the lawsuit.
And on Jan. 12, Latting received a letter saying the agency would terminate her job due to a “reduction of force.”
Peterson resigned from her post the next day, according to the lawsuit.
The agency posted two job openings, each with effectively the same descriptions as Latting’s position, the lawsuit says. Three days later, it hired two white women, whose salaries combined totaled $5,000 per month more than Latting’s. “
The Tribune went on to note that the two women who replaced Latting also just happened to be cronies of Terry Keel, the man that Miller brought in to serve as his assistant commissioner.
Latting, who had been employed with the state for 21 years, is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in damages.
The case against Miller brings two troubling trends in Texas politics to the forefront — the rampant cronyism and discrimination that have come to characterize the state’s Republican leadership. A study from the Houston Chronicle last year found that the GOP slate of officials elected in 2014 have filled more than 15% of their agency jobs with crony hires. This certainly appears to have occurred in Latting’s case, where she, an employee with a successful work record of over 20 years was fired and replaced by people whose top qualification appears to have been their relationship with Sid Miller’s friend.
It’s clear how this type of cronyism hurts Texans. Our state lost a qualified employee with over 20 years of experience, leaving the Department of Agriculture to be run by less qualified employees. When state employees are cronies instead of qualified hires, the quality of our state agencies suffers and they simply aren’t equipped to serve Texans in the way that they need.
The evidence for cronyism is clear. But the case also has a racial component that cannot be denied. While the federal EEOC investigated and did not find wrongdoing, Latting’s attorney contends that they did not have sufficient resources to properly investigate, lacking even the ability to take depositions. Regardless, the department did issue a right-to-sue letter, which is why Latting is now fighting back against the department decision.
The burden is now on Miller and his department to prove why their hiring decision is justified. And unfortunately for him, his past record of statements make it tough for him to plausibly deny that race had absolutely nothing to do with it. Miller’s social media accounts are littered with him making offensive statements against minorities. He called for bombing the entire “Muslim world,” he celebrated Transparent with a transphobic “joke,” and most recently, he promised to slap anyone who wished him “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Sid Miller has made it no secret that he doesn’t respect people who are different from him. With his disregard for minorities so blatant, it’s not surprising to hear that this could conceivably have manifested itself in his crony hiring decisions as well.
Lawsuit or not, until he’s voted out it’s unlikely that Sid Miller will stop making terribly offensive comments. Till then, we must continue to hold him accountable. 2018 can’t come quickly enough.