Suit Alleges Race Bias by O.C. Assessor

Times Staff Writer

A senior auditor-appraiser in the Orange County assessor's office contends in a lawsuit that he was passed over for promotion to a mid-level management job because he is white.

Ronald Cooper filed the racial-discrimination suit in Orange County Superior Court against Assessor Webster J. Guillory, the only African American to hold a countywide elected position in Orange County. Cooper alleged that he lost the manager's job to an African American he called less qualified.

The suit, filed last month on Cooper's behalf by Irvine attorney William M. Crosby, asks for unspecified damages. The suit contends that Cooper's losses include a $10,000-a-year salary difference between his current job and one he sought.

Cooper declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did Crosby and attorneys for the county and Guillory, who was first elected in 1998.

"There isn't anything more I can add to what's in the complaint," Crosby said of the suit, filed Dec. 21.

The lawsuit contends that Cooper, who was hired at the assessor's office in 1977, applied for a managing auditor-appraiser job in March and emerged the top-ranked candidate after a panel interview. In August, while Cooper was on vacation, the suit says, another manager in the assessor's office announced that Brian Ennis, a senior auditor-appraiser, was hired for the job.

"Ennis' score at the interview was a distant second" to Cooper's, according to the suit. When Cooper returned from vacation and asked what happened, he was told the hiring decision had been Guillory's, the suit says.

In September, Cooper filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The state didn't investigate because Cooper sought and received the right to sue the county.

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