Committee for Justice for Lorenzo Ervin

For Immediate Release
August 19, 2007

Contact: JoNina Abron Ervin

Fired Black Nonprofit Administrator
Sues White Social Justice Group

(Nashville, Tenn.) - The black former administrative coordinator of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center is suing the group—alleging that he was fired for complaining about racism in the organization.

The civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court on Aug. 14 by Lorenzo Ervin says that the board of directors of the NPJC fired him in December 2006 “after a long-running and contentious dispute.”

Founded in 1992, the NPJC is a coalition of over 20 predominantly white social justice organizations. Ervin, a former Black Panther and a veteran civil rights activist, was the center’s first African- American administrative coordinator. Documents that Ervin received prior to his interview for the job stated that the NPJC sought to be an anti-racist organization by 2008.

Ervin, 60, began working at the NPJC in June 2006. Shortly afterward, according to the lawsuit, the center’s interim coordinator, Christina Van Regenmorter, secretly circulated a letter to the NPJC’s personnel committee and other board members, claiming that Ervin was “lazy” and “unqualified.”

According to the lawsuit, Ervin did not learn about the letter until he was fired on Dec. 4. He maintains that Van Regenmorter, who is white, believed that she was better qualified for the job and sent the letter as retaliation for having to give up the position.

The lawsuit also charges that:

*Shortly after Ervin was hired, he learned from a local accounting firm that was hired to conduct an audit of the NPJC that the group had been dissolved as a state non-profit corporation since 1994 for failing to pay the required annual fee. Ervin immediately brought the matter to the board of directors’ attention, warning that they could be in serious tax trouble. Instead of supporting his effort to clear matters up with the IRS and state regulators, board members told Ervin he had to handle it. When he pointed out that it was the board chair’s responsibility, not his, he was accused of “malingering,” and this was later used as one of the reasons to fire him.

*Six weeks after Ervin began working at the NPJC, Jane Hussain, former acting chairwoman of the board, who is white, threatened to fire Ervin for urging board members who are people of color to vote for a person of color to be the permanent board chair at the upcoming board elections.

*Hussain snatched copies of racial justice proposals out of Ervin’s hands during a September board meeting, screaming, “we don’t need this” and throwing the papers in the trash. As a result, Ervin, following NPJC personnel procedures, filed an employee grievance against Hussain. However, NPJC officials failed to properly handle his complaint.

*Ervin filed a complaint with the Metro Human Rights Commission after the NPJC failed to mediate his grievance against Hussein and other board members retaliated against him. The MHRC did not handle Ervin’s complaint because the number of employees at the NPJC does not meet the commission’s guidelines, and referred the issue back to the NPJC.

*Shortly after he filed his complaint with the MHRC, Ervin received a phone call from NPJC board chair Melissa DaSilva, during which she berated Ervin for not completing the legal papers required for the NPJC to regain its non-profit status—a task Ervin could not do because he was not a member of the board. As a result of DaSilva’s harassment, Ervin filed an employee grievance against her, and she resigned.

*At least three times, the NPJC violated Ervin’s contract by failing to act on his requests for independent mediation of his grievances.

*Ervin was subjected to almost daily harassment, creating a hostile working environment.

*Board officers retaliated against Ervin for filing employee grievances, the complaint to the MHRC, and complaints about institutional racism at the NPJC.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for retaliation, racial discrimination, breach of contract, and other violations by the NPJC. It also demands back pay, reinstatement, and other terms to be administered.

Commenting on his lawsuit, Ervin said, “The NPJC is a progressive plantation…a place with a white supremacist culture where black people have no rights, where civil rights laws are not respected, and where an old, entrenched white board of directors behaved like slave masters on a plantation.”

A native of Chattanooga, Ervin is a former member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He is also a former leader of Concerned Citizens for Justice, a civil rights organization whose federal voting rights lawsuit resulted in the creation of the Chattanooga City Council in 1990. Ervin did the primary research for the voting rights lawsuit. In addition, he was a leader in a decade- long fight against the large number of deaths of civilians while in the custody of the Chattanooga police.