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Just days before the American Bar Association celebrated diversity at its annual convention last week, when its first African-American president passed the scepter to its second, the director of an ABA commission alleged that her superiors forced her to hire non-African-Americans even when they were less qualified than black applicants. On Aug. 5, Kimberly Youngblood, the African-American director of the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, filed a formal charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s district office in Chicago, the location of the ABA headquarters where she worked. Youngblood’s complaint alleges that her superiors told her she would have to accept a demotion or face termination. “I had never been reprimanded or counseled regarding my job performance,” the complaint states. “However, I had been advised that I had hired ‘too many’ African-American employees.” Since January, the complaint says, she has been “required” to hire employees “less qualified” than African-Americans. “I have objected to these discriminatory practices,” it says. “I have also been subjected to hostile treatment not directed at similarly situated non-African-American individuals.” The ABA is aware of the situation, she adds, “but has failed to take any remedial actions . . . .I believe that I have also been retaliated against for trying to oppose the Respondent’s unlawful employment practice,” it concludes. ABA response The ABA replied through a statement issued by its general counsel, Darryl DePriest: “The allegations of discrimination are totally without foundation. The American Bar Association is committed to equal employment opportunity and diversity.” More than 70% of its staff is female, more than 40% minority and 26% of staff leaders are minority, DePriest said, including two of the nine most senior executive positions. In an e-mail she sent to supportive commission members the day before she filed her complaint, Youngblood discussed the precipitating events. On July 1, she wrote, Terry Kramer, the ABA’s senior vice president for professional services, told her she would have to resign or accept a demotion to assistant director of the Young Lawyers Division. Kramer told her that commission Chair Diane Yu, along with two influential ABA members, pressured the association’s executive director, Robert Stein, to dismiss the entire commission staff. Stein agreed to remove Youngblood as a “compromise gesture,” she wrote. She was given a week to respond, Youngblood said. She hired attorney Ines Monte, formerly an EEOC staff attorney and now a partner at Chicago’s Brennan & Monte. A week later, she received a letter that claimed she’d “misunderstood” the association’s position and asked her to return to work. She did briefly, but has been on administrative leave while Monte has tried to negotiate severance. Kramer and Stein declined to comment, preferring to allow the ABA’s statement to speak for them. Alice Richmond, a Boston lawyer on the ABA’s Board of Governors, whom Youngblood referred to in her e-mail, said in a statement: “I never talked to Bob Stein about firing [Youngblood],” adding: “I think the whole situation is unfortunate.” In her e-mail and an interview, Youngblood asserted that the commission is riven by racial tension. As its first black director, she said, she pushed for more diversity. Last year, for the first time, half of the 12 are men and women of color. But all has not been calm. Its Women of Color Research Initiative has been subjected to unusual scrutiny, she said. Yu has been hostile to the project, she alleged. And, according to Youngblood, Yu charged that a woman whom the commission voted to honor this year with a Margaret Brent award was “only selected because she was black.” Messages were left for a half-dozen commission members; only Yu responded. “As the first woman of color to chair the Commission and someone with a long public record on diversity, I find the charges not only completely groundless, but also ironic,” Yu wrote. “I have consistently and publicly supported the Commission’s projects, including . . . the Women of Color initiative.” She supports and admires all the award winners, she said. DePriest said that the ABA’s commitment to the commission, its awards and its Women of Color project “is unwavering, transparent and complete.”

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