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5 white city residents denied class-action in racial bias lawsuit against Asheville
Sunday, 04 February 2024 18:15

From Staff Reports


Class-action certification was denied recently for five white Asheville residents — by order of a federal judge — “in a federal lawsuit they had filed against the City of Asheville that alleged discriminatory policies on the basis of race,” the Asheville Citizen Times reported on Jan. 21.

Undeterred, the same group denied in the above action (WNC Citizens for Equality, which bills itself as a local citizens’ watchdog group) on Jan. 22 in Asheville filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Buncombe County School District and the Asheville City School District for what it referred to as “a health internship class that expressly excludes white and Asian students from participation.” 

In addition, the group simultaneously filed a civil rights complaint against MAHEC, which it termed “the local health agency that partners with the school districts to provide the racially exclusive internships.” The MAHEC complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The class-action certification that was denied —filed Sept. 5 and citing 14th Amendment rights — “was brought after the plaintiffs were not appointed to the city’s Human Relations Commission,” a volunteer advisory board, the ACT noted.  


The HRC is billed as being dedicated to advancing issues of equity and to carry out the city’s human relations program.

On Oct, 6, the plaintiffs — John Miall, Robyn Hite, David Shaw, Danie Johnson and Willa Grant — “filed a motion through their attorneys that their lawsuit be certified as class-action,” the ACT reported. 

“Their proposed class would consist ‘of all past, present, future and deterred nonminority Asheville or Buncombe County applicants’ to HRCA,” their motion stated.

Further, the plaintiffs alleged “46 applications from nonminority applicants were subjected to race-based preferences, 30 of which were not appointed, according to the judge’s order. They argue this creates a class of well above 40 members for a class-action lawsuit against the city,” the ACT reported.

The newspaper then noted the following: 

“However, Chief U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger ruled that it’s ‘merely conjecture’ that the 30 would qualify for class membership because the plaintiffs have not presented evidence that all the applicants were rejected based only on their race.

“‘The plaintiffs have not presented any evidence indicating why the 30 of those 46 alleged applicants were rejected from membership on the HRCA,’” Reidinger wrote.

“‘Given that the criteria included experience or interest in human relations and residence in Asheville or Buncombe County in addition to the demographic criteria, it is not clear whether these 30 applicants were rejected solely on the basis of their race.’”

The ACT added, “The judge also noted that the city ordinance and policy regarding HRCA membership has been amended since many of the 30 individuals applied, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states a plaintiff cannot challenge the constitutionality of a statute that never applied to them.”

Meanwhile, in the group’s Jan. 22 complaint filings, WNC Citizens for Equality sent the Daily Planet a press release — written by the group’s attorney Ruth Smith — that stated the following:

“Starting in 2005, MAHEC started an internship program for high school students in Buncombe County and Asheville school districts where selected seniors could obtain first-hand experience at MAHEC’s facilities working with health care professionals. The two school districts provide students with 135 hours of honors credit for one semester of participation. The school districts also advertise and help select students for the program, monitor students’ attendance, provide  counseling, and grade student performance. The school districts explain that internships are ‘just like any other class.’

“The difference between this internship class and other classes in these school districts, however, is that the internship class specifically excludes white and Asian students from the educational opportunity. This discrimination is in violation of both federal and state law.

“‘It is well established that school districts cannot deny students educational opportunities based on race,’ says Ruth Smith, attorney for WNC Citizens for Equality. “‘Both the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbid this type of discrimination.’

“‘State law also prohibits it — both our state Constitution and statutory laws. There is no way this action of blatantly excluding students from educational opportunities based on skin color is legal.’

“‘MAHEC, meanwhile, is a recipient of federal funds.’” explained attorney Smith. “‘You cannot take federal funds and discriminate against persons based on race.’

“The school districts and MAHEC are currently selecting students for the 2024-2025 school year and are doing so with their racial requirements in place.

““It gives me personally no joy in filing these complaints. My kids went to Buncombe County schools, and I want these districts to succeed. Hopefully these complaints will be a wakeup call to the school districts and MAHEC to follow the law. If not, I am afraid that we will have to initiate litigation. As such, I encourage any parents of a student in Buncombe or Asheville’s school districts who are being denied this opportunity to reach out to me. Our organization provides free legal representation to our clients and members.’”

Besides serving as attorney for WNC Citizens for Equality, Smith, a Republian, is challenging N.C. Rep. Lindsey Prather, a Democrat, for her District 115 seat.



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