Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Fired Watkins museum historian accuses society of discrimination

September 10, 2003


A longtime historian at the Watkins Community Museum of History has been fired, and she's accusing her former bosses of discriminating against her because of her age and in retaliation for complaining about not being promoted.

Judy Sweets, fired last month as the museum's archivist, has filed a complaint with the Kansas Human Rights Commission.

Sweets accuses the Douglas County Historical Society of discrimination in two ways:

  • Age. Sweets, 58, said the society's board hired a younger woman to fill the museum's vacant director post despite Sweets being qualified.
  • Retaliation. Sweets said she was fired only after writing a letter to the board's president complaining that she had been discriminated against on the basis of age.

"The respondent retaliated against me by reducing my salary increase, harassing me by destroying my works, reprimanding me, eliminating a grant I was to receive, restricting my duties and prohibiting me from doing other work for the museum," Sweets said in her complaint to the commission. "I have been harassed and retaliated against for protesting discrimination."

Sweets, who had spent 15 years at the museum, was among the last holdovers from a staff criticized by Douglas County commissioners. They lambasted the society's board for allowing an atmosphere of lax administration, fiscal problems and bitter divisions to lead to dwindling donations and public participation at the museum, 1047 Mass.

The pressure led the society's board to push for the ouster in 2002 of longtime director Steve Jansen, a move that also triggered a demotion and salary decrease for Sweets.

Phil Godwin, president of the society's board, declined to comment on Sweets' firing or accusations. But in a formal response filed last week with the Human Rights Commission, the society denied Sweets' charges.

Andrew Ramirez, an attorney representing the society, said that Sweets had never applied for the director's job, did not have her salary increase reduced and did not face retaliation of any kind for her accusations of age discrimination.

Sweets, Ramirez said, was fired by museum director Rebecca Phipps simply for not fulfilling the duties of the job.

"I believe the new director is charting a new course for the museum, and those individuals who are supportive of that direction -- and there are lots of individuals that are supportive of that direction -- are going to find that positive things will happen, and continue to happen, in the future.

"If there are individuals that are not supportive of that new direction, they are not likely to continue to be part of the Douglas County Historical Society."

The commission is investigating whether cause exists for Sweets' allegations. If so, a hearing would be scheduled to determine whether the society should be forced to compensate Sweets for back pay or other damages.

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