Judge deals blow to black Georgia GOP staffer who was fired

A federal magistrate judge recommended that a key part of a racial discrimination lawsuit that’s dogged the Georgia Republican Party should move forward, but said another damaging claim against the state GOP should be tossed out.

Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman’s 75-page order this month is a mixed bag for the Georgia GOP, which has struggled to attract donors since the lawsuit was filed, and for Qiana Keith, the former staffer who sought punitive damages against the state party.

Keith said in the 2014 lawsuit that she overheard co-workers refer to her with a racial slur and humiliate her while she was working as an executive assistant to GOP chair John Padgett. She contends she was fired after complaining about her co-workers’ behavior.

Baverman’s order recommended that a federal judge dismiss Keith’s claim that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, finding that there’s no evidence for a jury to “reasonably infer” that Padgett was racially motivated when he fired Keith.

“Simply stated, Padgett’s desire to hire an African-American for the position ultimately filled by Plaintiff does not demonstrate (or infer) that race was a factor in her discharge,” read his order.

Yet he had a different view of her claim that she was improperly fired after she complained about the way she was treated in the office, finding that the party “gave inconsistent and shifting reasons” for her termination.

“A reasonable jury could conclude that retaliatory discrimination was the reason Plaintiff was fired,” he wrote.

Baverman’s order is not final; it still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell, who could follow the recommendations or take another route.

Keith attorney Kimberly Worth declined comment, and lawyers for the Georgia GOP did not immediately return requests seeking comment.

Keith’s complaint and other legal problems have complicated the Georgia GOP’s fundraising ability. Recently-filed campaign finance reports show the state party finished January with $38,000 in the bank and $317,000 in debt, and some donors have said they refuse to help fund the party’s legal bills.

The party’s finances have dominated the debate to replace Padgett, who is not seeking another two-year term in June. The top four contenders for the seat all pledge to raise significant cash to revive the party’s financial health.

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