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Mo. Guardsmen complain about discrimination

Dec. 22, 2008 - 11:32AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 22, 2008 - 11:32AM  |  
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ST. LOUIS More than a dozen Missouri National Guard members have complained that their top general discriminates based on gender and race, including two high-ranking officials who have filed federal complaints.

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ST. LOUIS More than a dozen Missouri National Guard members have complained that their top general discriminates based on gender and race, including two high-ranking officials who have filed federal complaints.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday that in the past two months, Lt. Col. James Tate, who is black, and Lt. Col. Nancy Jones, who is white, have filed federal discrimination complaints about Adjutant Gen. King Sidwell and his chief of staff, Col. Glenn Hagler. The complaints contend Sidwell and Hagler passed over qualified black and female officers for promotion in favor of less qualified white men.

The newspaper said also that 13 black members of the Guard, including Tate, have complained to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that Sidwell has "fostered a climate of institutional discrimination."

Sidwell and Hagler said some complaints in the NAACP letter involve situations that were "handled poorly" by management. However, they defended themselves against the allegations made in the equal opportunity complaints, saying that the two soldiers were probably unhappy because they didn't get jobs they wanted.

Jones, the Guard's top adviser on discrimination allegations, said she was passed over for a job as the head of human resources in favor of a white man who didn't apply for the job and had no experience in human resources. A 30-year veteran of the military, Jones has worked in human resources for 13 years and said she had received high marks for her work.

"The adjutant general said to me: ‘Nancy, this is not about you being a woman. It's that John Oberkirsch is the next person I want to promote.' That was his answer," said Jones, 51. "He genuinely doesn't see it. In my opinion, he doesn't see women in the same leadership capacity as he sees men."

Sidwell stuck by the answer he gave Jones and said Oberkirsch was from a field unit, which added to his credibility. Sidwell and Hagler said they wanted somebody from outside human resources to fix what they said was a broken department.

"The selection of the position she wanted was not based upon sex. It was based upon other management needs," Sidwell said. "I put females in position of responsibility."

Tate filed a complaint Dec. 1 with the inspector general of the Defense Department outlining what he calls a pattern of discrimination against both blacks and women under Sidwell and Hagler.

Tate, the deputy director of personnel for the Guard, listed six examples of alleged discrimination against blacks or women in his complaint, including the Guard's decision to bypass him for promotion to colonel despite a unanimous recommendation from the Career Management Board.

In a letter to Nimrod Chapel, the president of the Jefferson City branch of the NAACP, Tate and the other black soldiers pointed to several instances where black officers were passed over for promotion in favor of white counterparts who, the letter says, were less qualified.

"Under General Sidwell, it's my perception that unless your skin is the same color as his, you're not qualified to be part of the key staff," Tate said.

Sidwell said he didn't believe he discriminated against Tate or Jones or anybody else.

"I don't care about race, sex or national origin," the general said. "I care about who does the job."

Sidwell and Hagler told the Post-Dispatch they believed Tate's complaint was filed as retaliation against them for promoting another black man, Larry Spruill, to become the first black colonel in the Missouri Army Guard's history.

However, Tate's complaint was filed about a week before the Career Management Board met to consider Spruill's promotion.

Sidwell also told the newspaper that Spruill didn't qualify for the promotion under typical standards and that he was promoted because of "affirmative action."

However, the Guard's affirmative action policy makes it clear that race should not be a factor in promotions. The policy is a series of directives aimed at making sure Guard leadership takes equal opportunity seriously.

After his interview with the Post-Dispatch, Sidwell sent a letter saying Tate was 29th on an order of merit list and junior in grade, while Spruill is an adviser to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs at the Pentagon and is senior in grade.

He called Spruill a "high-quality" officer who came "highly recommended."

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