Charge of Reverse Bias Leveled at Compton Schools

Times Staff Writer

A former top-level Compton schools' security officer has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming school officials failed to promote him and eventually forced him out of the predominantly black district because he is white.

Bruce Cowan, a deputy to the school district's security director until he resigned Monday, also alleges in his complaint that two other white former security officials have resigned in the last three months because of racial discrimination and harassment by Supt. Ted Kimbrough and the Board of Trustees.

"I was forced to resign," Cowan, now an officer at the Los Angeles Police Department, said Tuesday in an interview. "I couldn't go to work and have my foot stepped on every day . . . ."

"They don't want me there because I'm white, therefore everything I say and whatever I do is wrong. . . . ," he said. "The district does not want white administrators."

A civil rights complaint such as Cowan's must be made six months before an individual or group can file a lawsuit, and Cowan said that if no settlement is worked out during those 180 days, he will sue the district. He will ask for $2.7 million to compensate for district salary he would have received during the next 30 years, he said.

'Flimsy, Circumstantial'

Speaking for the district, legal counsel Melanie Lomax said she was served with Cowan's Dec. 21 complaint on Tuesday and found it "flimsy, circumstantial ... without merit."

She said the majority of the administrators hired by the district in the last two years have been white.

"There is no indication in the record that this district is anything except an equal opportunity employer," said Lomax, "and it's been aggressive in seeking and employing Caucasians."

She noted that Cowan, former security director Carl Lawrence, and former security supervisor Robert Bridges all were hired in fall, 1983, and district trustees were fully aware the officers were white.

Lawrence, who resigned Oct. 9, said Tuesday that he will join Cowan's federal complaint by the end of the week. Lawrence said he had to resign or be fired and that he was forced out partly because of his race. He declined further comment.

Bridges resigned in late November after complaining informally to district officials about perceived racial discrimination, said Lomax.

Bridges could not be reached for comment this week, but in an interview last month said top school officials had referred to him, Cowan and Lawrence in racial epithets.

'Harassed, Intimidated'

"I was being harassed and intimidated . . . and I didn't feel I could do the job any longer," he said.

Cowan and Bridges have complained to district officials about not being chosen to succeed Lawrence as security director, alleging the selection of Thelma Daniels, who is black, as acting director showed racial bias.

Cowan, an 11-year Los Angeles police officer, said he and Bridges, a 25-year officer and former small-town police chief, were clearly more qualified than Daniels, who has no formal police officer training and does not qualify to be permanent security director unless district standards are changed.

Lomax, the schools' attorney, stressed that Daniels is only acting director and that the position will be filled permanently only after examinations to determine candidates' merits.

"The point is that Mr. Cowan was advised along with everyone else that they could compete to be the director," said Lomax. "An acting director is a temporary stopgap measure. Mrs. Daniels was a former director of security, and there was no indication that (her selection) had anything to do with skin color."

Trustees Deny Bias

Trustees Sam Littleton and Manuel Correa said race had nothing do with their vote for Daniels as interim director. Littleton and Correa said there was little school board discussion of the matter and that they followed Supt. Kimbrough's recommendation.

However, in a four-count grievance filed with the district Nov. 1, Cowan disagreed.

He alleged that in separate meetings in October, Kimbrough and Trustee John Steward told him he was a "throwaway" employee with no future in the district. Each used that precise term to describe him, he said.

Neither Kimbrough nor Steward would comment. Lomax said she was advising all district employees not to comment on the case because of expected litigation.

In the same grievance, Cowan said that he has "on several occasions" been called "white boy" and "white man" by acting Director Daniels, and that "on numerous occasions (she) maliciously pointed out what she perceived as differences in (Cowan's) culture and the black culture."

Daniels did not return phone calls.

Currently, two racial discrimination lawsuits are pending against the school district, Lomax said.

Last year, the district settled a reverse discrimination suit filed by seven white former principals and assistant principals, awarding them $451,685 and giving three their jobs back. The federal judge in the case found that then-Supt. Aaron Wade was racially motivated in demoting the administrators to classroom positions.

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