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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wall Street Darling Faces Charges of Sex and Race Discrimination

Campus Crest Communities

A North Carolina company that recently issued a $380-million IPO on Wall Street faces charges of sex and race discrimination from three former or current employees.

Campus Crest Communities, which develops student housing near college campuses, is charged in Charlotte federal court with creating a work environment that is hostile to women and African-Americans. Two plaintiffs in the lawsuits, Nicole McAuliffe and Heather McCormack, say they were terminated after complaining of a sexually hostile work environment at Campus Crest. A third plaintiff, Tammy Hughes-Brown, says she has faced discrimination because she is an African-American.

The story has a strong Alabama component. Ted Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest Communities, is a central figure in an Alabama divorce case that appears to involve rampant irregularities. Sherry Carroll Rollins had sued Ted Rollins for divorce in South Carolina. But contrary to black-letter law, he managed to sue her in Alabama, where she and the couple's two daughters had moved after being forced from their home in Greenville.

As we've reported here at Legal Schnauzer, Ted Rollins appears to have benefited from his connections to  Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings, one of Alabama's largest and most conservative law firms. The Birmingham-based firm is defending Campus Crest Communities in the discrimination cases.

Nicole McAuliffe was hired as an area manager at Campus Crest's Charlotte headquarters in October 2008. She was paid a salary of $82,500, with a bonus potential of $50,000. But she quickly discovered that the workplace was hostile and demeaning toward women, driven largely by Chief Operating Officer Brian Sharpe. McAuliffe's complaint states:

Sharpe, on a frequent and/or daily basis, used the term “fuck” and “fucking,” in his verbal communications in the workplace. Sharpe further referred to women in the office as “cunts,” “bitches” and “whores” and referred to Defendant’s marketing team as the “whore’s den.” On more than one occasion, Sharpe, in the presence of Plaintiff and others, referred to Shannon King as a “cunt.” On another occasion, while on the corporate jet with Sharpe and others, Sharpe made derogatory and misogynistic remarks about Heather McCormack, Defendant’s Vice-President of Administrative Operations, calling her a “fucking bitch” and threatening to “rip her fucking head off.”

Shannon King, who had been executive vice president and chief marketing officer, resigned from Campus Crest in October. McAuliffe's complaint provides insight into why King and other women might have been uncomfortable at Campus Crest:

Also, Sharpe, in Plaintiff’s presence, complained about a race discrimination complaint made by another female employee of Defendant and stated he “couldn’t believe she had fucking done this [made a complaint]” and that “if our employees don’t want to work they should fucking get out.” On yet another occasion, Plaintiff heard Sharpe shout sex-based obscenities at McCormack and observed that Sharpe had become so angry and agitated that he popped a blood vessel in his eye.

According to the complaint, Rollins and Chief Investment Officer Mike Hartnett tolerated Sharpe's behavior. In some instances, Rollins contributed to the hostile work environment:

Further, Plaintiff heard Ted Rollins frequently yell at Heather McCormack to “go get the fucking money.” On yet other occasions, Rollins insisted that all attractive female applicants for employment be introduced to Brian Sharpe; alternatively, if Rollins saw an attractive applicant for employment in the office, he would bring Sharpe in to meet her.

McAuliffe says the company practiced blatant discrimination against people of color--and for that matter, older people. She and other staff members were directed to hire predominantly young, white women to available positions at the company's various residential rental properties:

For instance, Shannon King stated in the presence of Plaintiff and others that “we have Southern investors; they do not like for us to hire blacks.” On another occasion, Yvette St. Pierre, at that time Defendant’s Vice-President of Leasing, stated in Plaintiff’s presence that “once you hire an African American, you never can get rid of them because they think they are so entitled.” Further, Sharpe made frequent racial remarks, even referring to a section of the corporate office where several African American administrative staff worked as the “hood.”

How far would Campus Crest go to make sure it hired mostly young, white employees?

Plaintiff was directed to provide her superiors with photographs taken from the FaceBook or MySpace pages of all applicants she recommended for employment to ensure that the individual applicant was not an African American or was too old. On one occasion a white male applicant who was a candidate for employment for a general managerial position of one of Defendant’s residential properties was flown to Defendant’s Charlotte corporate headquarters to determine his race because Shannon King, Julie Yow, and Yvette St. Pierre believed he had an African-American-sounding first name and they wanted to verify his race. In fact, after Plaintiff conducted this individual’s phone interview, Yow asked Plaintiff whether he “sounded Black.”

Investors have showered Campus Crest Communities with funds for future development. But what is the company really like. The complaints from McAuliffe and others paint an ugly picture. It gets ugly from an administrative, financial, and ethical perspective, too. We will be covering those angles in future posts.

The Nicole McAuliffe complaint is below. It originally was filed in state court but has been moved to federal court.

(To be continued)

Campus Crest McAuliffe

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