Ed Dept. official leaving amid discrimination claims

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A high-level Mississippi Department of Education administrator is leaving amid allegations of sexual and racial discrimination in his office.

Mississippi Department of Education director of Research and Development J.P. Beaudoin foreground) during a meeting of the state Board of Education in August.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Mississippi Department of Education director of Research and Development J.P. Beaudoin (foreground) during a meeting of the state Board of Education in August.

J.P. Beaudoin, the chief of research and development, was hired by State Superintendent Carey Wright last year to fill a new position in the department at a salary of $158,000. In the years before his hiring, he consulted with the department, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as CEO of Research in Action Inc., based in Baton Rouge.

Former Education Department employee Melissa Hall filed a lawsuit in federal court in August alleging she was subjected to race and sex discrimination when fired from her position of business systems analyst. Hall, an African-American female who had worked in the department for about 11 years, said she was then replaced by a white male.

Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Jean Cook said Beaudoin’s departure is “independent of Melissa Hall’s complaint,” and that the department is aware of the lawsuit but cannot comment on litigation or personnel matters. Cook said Beaudoin will leave around the end of this month.

While Beaudoin’s actions are the subject of the lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Education, State Superintendent Carey Wright and other unnamed department officials are listed as defendants.

Hall initially filed a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. The EEOC issued a notice of right to sue to Hall, meaning the commission wasn’t able to determine if the law was violated.

Hall claims in the complaint that Beaudoin created a “racially and sexually hostile work environment.”

“J.P. Beaudoin treated white males more favorably than he treated me,” the complaint reads. “Upon information and belief, J.P. Beaudoin told Cerissa Neal, a white female, who also was fired by MDE that MDE needed to get rid of Amy Daniels, a white female, to prevent me (Melissa Hall) from later claiming I was the victim of race discrimination.”

Neal referred questions to her attorney, Lisa Ross. Daniels, who is now employed in the Hinds County School District, declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

When asked whether Neal had that conversation with Beaudoin, Ross said it would be Neal’s “testimony under oath” that is what was said.

Ross, who is also representing an employee in a separate lawsuit against the department, said she is aware of two pending EEOC complaints against the department and Beaudoin specifically for issues similar to those raised by Hall.

“They all involve women who have either been discharged or demoted unlawfully. Both of them based on sex (gender), and one based on race and sex),” Ross said.

Those complaints are still being investigated by EEOC, which does not publicly reveal its actions because they involve personnel matters.

In Hall’s lawsuit, she says the department cited a law passed by the Legislature exempting the department for two years from state regulations regarding personnel actions, including hiring and firing. During that period, the agency could fire employees without cause or a hearing.

“Though facially non-discriminatory, House Bill 454 as applied by the Mississippi Department of Education is discriminatory and has impacted me and other African-Americans and women in a discriminatory manner,” the complaint states.

The Education Department maintains that all personnel decisions at that time “were made in accordance with the statute,” according to Cook.

The law was passed to allow the department to reorganize and streamline the agency.