(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article erred in outlining the effect of a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The letter only clears the path for a suit on the part of the complainant. It does not necessarily find fault with the city’s practices.)
Sherman Assistant Police Chief Bob Fair recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Fair is the fifth city employee to file a complaint after the city announced in December that former Police Chief Otis Henry would retire from the role effective Jan. 1. and then replaced him with Zachary Flores who was, at the time of his announcement as chief of police, working the Human Resources Manager at the city.
In his letter to the EEOC, Fair described his claim for discrimination as, “age discrimination based upon the promotion of a younger, less qualified person to the position of chief of police without giving me the opportunity to compete for the position.”
City of Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch noted that Fair hasn't been back to work since Flores became chief. “… So he hasn't yet had the opportunity to see the positive changes in department morale since Chief Flores took over. Suffice to say, the PD is in better hands, and Sherman has moved on. As for him getting seduced by the siren song of these shady lawyers, it's unfortunate. Bob's worked for the City of Sherman for nearly four decades. He is a respected member of the PD. So to now turn on the taxpayers in search of a quick payday, it's out of character for him. And it's sad,” Strauch said.
Fair's letter said Flores left the Sherman Police Department as a sergeant.
“He remained in that job for approximately three months before leaving the department to become Human Resources Manager at City Hall,” Fair said. “Flores had never been in a single command position with the department. He had never had supervisory responsibility over the other officers. He had not completed the command training schools that I and others in the department had complete. Had he remained with the department, per our regulations, he would not yet have been eligible for promotion to Lieutenant, let alone Chief of the whole department.”
On Wednesday, Ed Richardson, the Sherman attorney who represents both Fair and Henry, said Fair has not be advised that his status would change at all when he returns to work; however, Richardson said, given what has happened to others in similar circumstances, Fair decided to file the complaint with the EEOC and have the matter investigated.
After the retirement, Henry filed a complaint with the EEOC claiming he was discriminated against because of his age. Last month, the EEOC sent a right to sue letter, which indicates the EEOC's case is closed and gives the complainant 90 days to file a suit. Richardson said Henry plans to file the complaint in federal court soon.
Fair's letter to the EEOC says that he has taken part in the investigation into Henry's claim of discrimination. “The City of Sherman has been made aware of my cooperation and City Manager Robby Hefton was given notice in December, of 2016 that I opposed his discriminatory treatment of Chief Henry. I have been out on medical leave since December. Stephen Dean, the other Assistant Chief in the Sherman Police Department at the time of Chief Henry's ouster, has already been demoted for supporting Chief Henry. I fear that, when I return from medical leave, I will also be demoted because I opposed the discriminatory treatment of Chief Henry.”
In January, Stephen Dean and Wayne Blackwell filed complaints with the EEOC claiming they were demoted from their previous roles with the city and were not given explanations for the demotions. Dean served as an assistant chief under Henry, and he was demoted after Zachary Flores was named police chief. Ron Huff, the attorney representing Dean and Blackwell, told the Herald Democrat in March that Dean was discriminated against because of his age, and he was retaliated against because he voiced support for Henry.
City staff previously told the Herald Democrat that the police chief is allowed to pick his assistants as long as the former assistants are returned to their prior roles. Dean was moved to his previous rank of lieutenant as Flores named Jason Jeffcoat the new assistant chief.
Blackwell was the director of human resources for the city, and he was made the city's training and development manager — a position that did not previously exist. Huff previously said Blackwell claimed he has faced discrimination because of his gender and age and he was also retaliated against. City staff previously said Blackwell has received no change in his rate of pay in his new position, and he still has the same supervisor.
Jon Kirksey, current assistant manager of public works, was previously the assistant director of public works. He also filed an EEOC complaint in January claiming he suffered an adverse employment action due to discrimination. Richardson, who is also representing Kirksey, previously said that after client's supervisor left to take another job, the city did not promote him and moved others above him.
City officials said Kirksey had been employed with the city for only a few months when that job became available. Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton said in a previous email statement that Kirksey “didn't get the position he wanted because he hasn't been here long enough to determine whether or not he is ready for more responsibility.” City staff noted that Kirksey was not demoted and his duties and salary did not change, but the title change reflected a broader change to the city's organizational chart.