GOP Organizations Sued for Racial Discrimination and Retaliation

By Roch Hammond | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A former field director for the Republican Party of Florida is suing the state party, the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, alleging that she was the victim of racial discrimination, a racially hostile work environment and retaliation during her year-long job.

Nadia Naffe, who is African American, served as Southwest Florida field director for the state GOP between August 2003 and April of this year.

According to the complaint filed Tuesday, Naffe was forced to perform job assignments against her will that concentrated heavily on black organizations, events and issues. According to the complaint, she was also the only black field director for the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF).

"Very few, if any" white people had tasks such as hers, Naffe alleged, complaining that this amounted to "race matching," a practice in which assignments are doled out based on an employee's race.

After she sought and did not receive any assistance from the Republican Party, the lawsuit states, she contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March. That action led to the RPOF's general counsel, Robert Sechen, threatening to fire Naffe, her lawsuit alleges.

Her dismissal occurred about one month later for reasons Naffe claims were fabricated.

The lawsuit also alleges that Naffe's supervisor, RPOF executive director of party development, Terry Kester, made several comments Naffe found offensive. They include Kester instructing her to contact African-American Republican clubs to discourage them from attending an NAACP march.

Kester allegedly remarked that "the last thing [the RPOF wanted] to see is some black guy on television wearing a Republican shirt and responding to the press in an ignorant way," according to Naffe.

Kester also allegedly referred to African-Americans "routinely" as "you people" or "your people," telling Naffe that she was given her "race matching" assignments because "you understand your people."

At one point, Kester allegedly showed Naffe a portrait of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, calling him "the best senator who ever lived," according to the lawsuit.

Joseph Agostini, spokesman for the RPOF, said Naffe's charges are baseless.

"Allegations are just that -- allegations. The process will play itself out, and I am confident they will be found to be without substance," Agostini said. He had no further comment, citing the pending litigation.

Charles Burr, a partner with the Burr & Smith law firm in Tampa, and the local legal co-counsel for Nadia Naffe, said the case is "first and foremost about retaliation." Naffe believes she was fired for complaining to party officials and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, Burr said.

Most of the reasons cited by the Florida GOP for Naffe's removal are "absolutely fabricated nonsense," he added. The reasons that were somewhat accurate are explained by Naffe's reluctance to perform "race matching" assignments and by her tenuous relationship with her supervisors, according to Burr.

Burr said Naffe was never informed that these "race matching" tasks of working with "black organizations, issues and causes" would be part of her duties as field director.

"If it had been said, she would not have applied for the job," he continued, "She wouldn't have wanted to be pegged with the limited role of minority outreach. She thought it would be better if everyone spread those jobs around, black and white."

Burr concluded by saying, "The things she was complaining about, really and truly, [were] illegal ... It's just amazing nobody in the Republican Party picked up on that and noticed it in time to do anything effective to stop all this."

When asked why the Bush-Cheney campaign and RNC were included in the lawsuit, he disclosed several reasons. "Under traditional labor law principles, they are a joint employer," Burr said.

"Around the first of this year," Burr added, a greater amount of Naffe's work involved efforts with the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Naffe reported to people who work with the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC, Burr said. She was paid with federal funds that derived from both organizations, and an official with the RNC allegedly participated in a "retaliatory" phone call to Naffe near the end of her time with the RPOF, Burr said.

Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said that she did not understand why the RNC was named in the lawsuit because "this person never was an employee of the RNC."

The Bush-Cheney campaign could not be reached for comment.

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