MASON CITY, Iowa – After 40 years working for the city of Mason City, former human rights director, Lionel Foster is now suing his former employer.
It was at a meeting last year where the Mason City council agreed to cut the funding of the Human Rights Commission from $143,000 to $15,000.
A move that resulted in many of the jobs within the commission being cut. Including Foster’s position as director, but according to Foster’s attorney, the issue goes beyond dollars and cents.
“One of the members of the city council explained on the radio in a recorded interview that one of the reasons they were doing this is because Lionel was old. In addition to being old Lionel also, as far as I know is the only African-American that has ever been employed by the city of Mason City in a management position,” said Roxanne Conlin.
Foster is now filing a lawsuit against the city claiming discrimination.
There’s no shortage of names on the list of defendants. Everyone from city administrations, the mayor and the human rights commission. While their titles differ, their responses if any were the same. No comment.
Before a complaint makes its way to the courts however, it must go through the state civil rights commission. But even they say, discrimination charges are often hard to prove.
“Nine times out of 10, you don’t see the decision-makers saying to the individual, ‘I’m taking this action against you because of your gender or your race or religion or because you’re pregnant.’ So, people don’t make those types of declarative statements,” said Beth Townsend, Executive Director with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
According to Roxanne Conlin however, Lionel’s decision is one he felt needed to be made on behalf of all those he has served over the years.
“Lionel would feel hypocritical if he was the victim himself of discrimination on the basis of age and race and didn’t take action. None of us ever thought he would be in this position, but he’s in the position where he needs to vindicate his own civil rights,” said Conlin.
Attorneys for the city officials are saying there won’t be a statement from defendants on this case right now.
Foster is asking for a settlement.
If that can’t be reached he’s requesting a jury trial.