A white woman from Rapid City, South Dakota, reached a settlement with her former employer in a racial discrimination lawsuit.
The company, Community Alternatives of the Black Hills, oversees and supervises private jail facilities. They went into court over an allegation that the woman, Alicia A. Kline, had been targeted by a supervisor for not being Native American. The supervisor has since been terminated.
Attorneys for the plaintiff argued in a suit that the woman, Alicia A. Cline, began to feel uncomfortable with her new boss at Community Alternatives of the Black Hills. The freshly appointed supervisor had made a number of remarks suggesting he thought Cline was a member of the local Sioux tribe. Rather than correct him, she listened quietly without comment.
Cline worked at Community Alternatives for six years, between 2009 and 2015. She was the facility’s deputy director, responsible for managing a halfway house wherein federal and state inmates were given an opportunity to begin re-entering society before completing their sentences.
The new supervisor was appointed in 2014, a year before her termination.
“Throughout his first few weeks of employment, [the supervisor] made several comments to Cline that suggested that he thought Cline was of Native American descent,” the lawsuit alleged. “But Cline did not correct him or make any comments in response.”
When Cline called in to work to report she’d be absent several days before Thanksgiving 2014, she told her supervisor that she’d taken her children to see a doctor. She told her supervisor she was glad to have her kids’ illness resolved before the holiday, when she assumed her physician’s office would be closed.
Cline’s supervisor remarked that she could have taken her children to the Sioux San Hospital, managed by the local Indian Health Service. The facility would be open on Thanksgiving, he said.
When Cline informed him that she wasn’t Native American and thus might not be eligible for care at Sioux San, his demeanor changed almost immediately.
“After the November 24th conversation, [the supervisor’s] communication to Cline became less responsive and more critical and confrontational,” the lawsuit said. The Rapid City Journal states the lawsuit also alleged that the supervisor reduced Cline’s responsibilities in the period leading up to her termination.
In the weeks preceding her dismissal, Cline claims her supervisor made a number of “racially charged” remarks. He told her that he had a vision “for only hiring Native Americans” – words that made the non-native Cline uneasy.
Trying to ensure the integrity of her employment, Cline reported her supervisor’s remarks to a number of people before escalating the matter “up the corporate chain of command.”
“She was disciplined for a separate matter,” wrote Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal, before being “inexplicably suspended without pay” and then fired in January.
Cline’s attempts to file charges with the Department of Labor and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were dismissed.
Of the settlement, Cline’s lawyer, Kassie McKie-Shiffermiller, said, “I cannot comment on the terms of the settlement agreement, except that the parties have settled the matter and are pleased to put the matter behind them.”
While a legal motion has effectively closed the case, the terms of the settlement were not made public. Tupper said Community Alternatives’ legal counsel didn’t respond to the Rapid City Journal’s email seeking further information.