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A former employee of the Parks and Recreation Department in Lawton, Oklahoma, was escorted to a different department weeks after filing a racial bias complaint against her director.
Katisha Wiley, 49, worked her way up from a pool attendant six years ago to the position of administrative assistant handling city permits within the department. Under the leadership of Director Christine James, Wiley says an already hostile environment became worse when she sought to file a permit for the city’s 2023 Juneteenth festival.
Thinking the permit process would be as normal as any of the other 500 she’d filed, Wiley handed the paperwork to her director Christine, who allegedly gave a racist response.
“Tish, you know if we do not give them what they want they’re just going to use their black card,” Wiley accuses James of saying on April 19.
In the weeks that followed, Wiley’s grievance would see her meeting with Human Resources department and the acting city manager in discussions she claims were attempts to bury the issue under the rug.
Despite seeking the removal of Christine James from her position as director of Lawton Parks and Rec., Wiley says she was instead asked to relocate to a different position. After Wiley refused to relocate, city employees eventually would physically escort her out of the building into a different department.
“I was marched out of the building like some kind of criminal,” Wiley told The Black Wall Street Times.
Wiley shared a video recording of her being escorted out of the building.
Former Parks and Rec. employee quits amid “hostile environment”
A handwritten letter making the rounds on Reddit shows Wiley describing the situation.
Wiley shared with the Black Wall Street Times emails she saved regarding her discussions with HR and the acting City Manager John Ratliff.
For days after the incident, she’d received no response from HR. So, on April 26, she sent an email asking for an update.
“I was wondering if there was an update to my grievance? I am concerned because no one has had a conversation with me yet,” Wiley wrote.
Wiley said HR eventually scheduled a meeting for her to meet with the City Manager about the issue.
City Manager responds to Lawton Parks and Rec. incident
After being stood up on April 27, HR rescheduled another meeting for the following day. Instead of removing Parks and Rec. Director Christine James from her position, Wiley says City Manager Ratliff instead offered to place James in racial sensitivity classes. An email from Ratliff to Wiley dated May 10 shows him suggesting Wiley move to a different department. Wiley said it felt like a $4,000 bribe to move on from the issue.
“Tish, if you were willing to move to L&P [License and Permits], I could give you a bump up from $32,364.80 (your current pay) to $36,103.84 (future pay),” the email from Ratliff reads. “The position is not a team lead. Please let me know no later than COB tomorrow.”
Wiley refused the offer, which later turned into a demand.
“It started as an ask and then became a push,” Wiley said.
After expressing her desire to remain at her department, the whistleblower received a more demanding email from City Manager Ratliff.
“Tish, I understand. However, I need you over in L&P. I’ll be transferring you over to that office effective Monday. Please start making the necessary arrangements to make that happen. You’ll report to Charlotte Brown when you get over here. I appreciate you understanding.”
“Why would you put me in another division I have no experience in,” Wiley told The Black Wall Street Times. Frustrated with the lack of accountability, Wiley says she put in her two weeks notice on May 12. Yet instead of allowing her to finish her two weeks at her department, Wiley said she was escorted out of the building.
Employee seeks legal counsel
By May 14, Wiley decided to quit effective immediately.
“Despite adhering to city procedures and policies, I have encountered instances of racial bias and inequality, including the use of racial slurs within our work environment. This toxic atmosphere has taken a toll on my ability to maintain the high standards of work that I expect from myself,” Wiley said in a letter sent to HR.
While Wiley is currently unemployed, Parks and Rec. Director Christine James remains in her position, City Manager Ratliff confirmed with The Black Wall Street Times.
“They thought it was over after I quit. The only thing I did was take the shackles off my ankles. I can’t fight it from within the system. You can’t stop me from talking anymore,” Wiley told The Black Wall Street Times.
Wiley is currently seeking an attorney.
City Manager responds, threatens to sue The Black Wall Street Times
In a phone call with The Black Wall Street Times, City Manager John Ratliff denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s a personnel issue. There’s two sides to every story,” Ratliff told The Black Wall Street Times. When asked why Christine James wasn’t removed as director of Parks and Rec., Ratliff said that she faced “appropriate” discipline. He said he couldn’t go into details due to it being a personnel matter.
When asked why he forced the removal of a Black employee who complained of racism to a different department, he said it was the best solution “under the circumstances” and that his office “took all factors into consideration.”
Ratliff is “not at all” worried about facing a lawsuit, and when asked if his handling of the incident has caused distrust among the Black community, Ratliff said “I sure hope not.”
City Manager John Ratliff alluded to the possibility of suing The Black Wall Street Times for our article. We stand by our reporting. The Lawton Parks and Recreation Department (580-581-3400) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.