Ohio Civil Rights Commission accused of civil rights violations by former interim director

A former chief attorney for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is suing the director of the commission alleging she and the agency violated her civil rights.

The plaintiff, Stephanie Demers, briefly served as interim director of the agency until the current director was hired in March 2020. Before and after that, she was the agency’s chief legal counsel.

The current director, Angela Phelps-White, then fired Demers in March 2021 “with no notice or explanation and replaced Ms. Demers, a highly regarded attorney with decades of legal experience, with a younger, less qualified male employee,” according to her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

The suit alleges Phelps-White told Demers in their first face-to-face meeting: “I have a difficult time working with women.”

Before firing her, Phelps-White reduced Demers’ responsibilities at the organization, the lawsuit alleges.

In addition to Phelps-White, the suit filed in March names members of the commission as defendants. The suit alleges sex and age discrimination.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission responded to the suit on May 31 with a filing in federal court asking for most of the claims to be dismissed by the judge.

“Plaintiff Stephanie Demers’ Complaint can be distilled down to a single fact: she disagreed with the decisions Director Phelps-White made as the OCRC’s new executive director,” the filing says.

“Director Phelps-White adapted the OCRC’s procedures and operations to better support and improve the agency’s functions in accordance with her job as director. These decisions included adjustments to Plaintiff’s role as Chief Legal Counsel.”

Ohio Civil Rights Commission officials declined to comment Monday beyond what’s in their court filing, saying they don’t comment on ongoing litigation.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission investigates and addresses allegations of unlawful discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and education. It’s commissioners are appointed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

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