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3rd racial discrimination lawsuit hits St. Louis County administration

Darlene Reed says she was fired for supporting her former boss, the late Hazel Erby, in calling out lack of minority participation in county contracts

CLAYTON, Mo. — St. Louis County is facing new allegations of racial discrimination from a former Black employee who says she was fired for her efforts to enforce laws requiring women and minority-owned businesses be included in county contracts.

Darlene Reed, the former Deputy Director of the Officer of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, filed a discrimination lawsuit this week alleging Executive Sam Page’s administration fired her because she supported her boss, the late Hazel Erby, who criticized Page for not adhering to the women and minority-owned business statute.

“St. Louis County violated the Missouri Human Rights Act by retaliating against Reed because of her association with Hazel Erby, her opposition to discrimination and her enforcement of anti-discrimination laws,” according to the lawsuit.

Page’s spokesperson, Doug Moore, said the administration does not comment on pending litigation.

Reed’s lawsuit is the latest in a series of racial discrimination lawsuits lodged against the Page administration.

As one of his first acts as County Executive in 2019, Page hired Erby to be the county's first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director for $121,000 a year. 

Reed worked for the county from July 2008 through Aug. 28, 2020. Erby appointed her as her number two in October 2019.

In her lawsuit, Erby alleges she complained to Page that the county wasn't using the required number of minority and women-owned contractors for projects, including a $1.67 million temporary morgue.

After she raised concerns about the lack of minority participation in the morgue, Page told Erby that she and her office would no longer be involved in the contracting process, including MWBE enforcement, according to Erby’s lawsuit.

“Erby asked Page how the county would enforce the MWBE,” according to Erby’s lawsuit. “Page said that he was not going to ‘deal with that.’ Page also told Erby that he did not want to keep supporting the MWBE, that the legislation was ‘flawed’ and ‘no good.’”

Page fired Erby Aug. 18, 2020.

Ten days later, Page’s Chief of Staff Deanna Venker told Reed, “her services were no longer needed,” according to Reed’s lawsuit.

“She’s alleging she was fired because she was her deputy director and she participated in and supported Hazel in all of her fights to enforce MWBE,” said Jill Silverstein, Reed and Erby’s attorney. “She worked to help enforce the WMBE and helped train county employees and residents about discrimination and bias.”

Erby died July 2 after a long battle with cancer, but Silverstein added more counts to her lawsuit this week based on the public employee whistleblower statute.

“She was retaliated against for trying to enforce the law that prohibits discrimination and she spoke up about it all the time thank goodness,” Silverstein said. “She wanted her work to continue whether it was her work in the community or in this lawsuit, which was making things right and calling out noncompliance with anti-discrimination laws.”