Refuses to Promote White Teachers
Posted Aug. 8, 2000
Updated June 21, 2003
|(1) Reverse Discrimination:
Sandy Atkins is a highly qualified teacher in the Benton Harbor, Michigan school
district. She received a Masters Degree in educational administration from
Western Michigan University, and her cumulative grade point average was 3.95 (on a 4 point
scale). Atkins also earned a chief school business official certification.
Sandy Atkins is white, she was 47 years old when she initiated this lawsuit, and she
worked as a teacher for the Benton Harbor elementary schools since 1993. Her
employment record and personnel file during this period has been exemplary.
From 1978 through 1983 Ms. Atkins taught in the Tri-County Area Schools in Howard City.
During these 6 years she taught children between 10 and 17 years old. In 1983
Ms. Atkins left teaching in order to raise her own children.
In 1993 Sandy Atkins re-entered the workforce as a teacher in Benton Harbor.
While still raising her young children, in 1989 Atkins undertook a demanding Masters
Degree program in educational leadership, which she successfully completed in 1995, two
years after beginning her teaching job with the Benton Harbor schools.
Drawing upon her teaching experience as well as her new Masters Degree, in 1995
Atkins began applying for principal jobs in the Benton Harbor district which would have
allowed her to shape educational policy and promote advocacy for children.
In spite of Sandy Atkins credentials and her extensive teaching experience, the Benton
Harbor Area School district has denied her a promotion on at least 10 occasions mostly, as
her suit alleges, because she is white. She filed suit in U.S. District Court in
Lansing, Michigan on January 6, 2000.
In her lawsuit, Atkins alleges that Benton Harbors black Superintendent, Renee
Williams, has repeatedly passed Atkins over for less-experienced and less-qualified black
Beyond Affirmative Action:
The Benton Harbor, Michigan school administration is dominated by black administrators and
teachers. The school districts web page prominently boasts "We value
And, of all the schools in this southwestern part of the state, Benton Harbor is the only
one which maintains racial targets and goals for the advancement of a certain percentage
of minorities. (Most other Michigan schools maintain a simple
"non-discrimination" policy as required by law.)
The Benton Harbor school districts affirmative action policy manual uses divisive,
racially-exclusionary rhetoric to describe their quota program. The following is a
direct quote from the manual:
"Unless positive action is
undertaken to overcome the effects of institutional exclusion and discrimination, a benign
neutrality in employment practices will tend to perpetuate the status quo
Translation: The Benton Harbor district believes that relying upon teacher
qualifications and performance for promotion decisions will result in the continuation of
alleged racial discrimination.
The Racial Numbers:
The administration of the Benton Harbor Area Schools in 1998 and 1999 was comprised of 21
black members vs. 5 white members.
Benton Harbor's elected school board has only 1 non-black member.
4 of the top 6 administrators in the Benton Harbor district are black, and 66% of the
principals are black.
The Benton Harbor district has a largely black student body and administration, but its
teaching staff that is about 2/3 white.
The district has published a race-based affirmative action policy which stipulates
"goals" of achieving a teaching staff and administration that is 60 to 70
As of the summer of 1999, only 38% of Benton Harbor's teachers were minorities (62% of
teachers are recorded by the district as "non-minorities").
Thus, according to Benton Harbor's stated racial goals, they still need to
eliminate an additional 22% of the remaining white teachers from their staff in order to
achieve their racial hiring goals.
In an environment such as this, one must wonder how likely it is that a white teacher --
such as Sandy Atkins -- with good teaching skills and excellent academic credentials will
receive fair treatment when applying for a promotion!
Benton Harbor's district superintendent, Renee Williams, is black. Superintendent
Williams belongs to Alpha Kappa Alpha, a black professionals sorority, which
encourages only blacks to become members.
Superintendent Williams has said that her membership in the black sorority, AKA, has
nothing to do with the district's hiring practices, even though some of the blacks she
promoted ahead of plaintiff Atkins were members of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
In 1995 Sandy Atkins earned her masters degree in educational administration and she
also obtained a chief school business official certification.
At that time Atkins submitted two applications for promotion in Benton Harbor -- one for
the principals position at a magnet school in the district (the Creative Arts
Academy), and one for the assistant principals job at the Hull Elementary School in
Ms. Atkins was denied an interview, and the suit alleges that both posts were filled by
less-qualified black women.
Undaunted, in 1996 Atkins applied a second time for the principals position at the
districts Creative Arts Academy. Atkins finished first in the candidate
interview process this time, but was again rejected in favor of an allegedly less
|(4) The Lawsuit:
Atkins lawsuit states, in part:
*** "Given the severe underrepresentation of
minorities in the teaching profession, [the Benton Harbor goal of 66% black teachers and
administrators] would be impossible to realize or even come close to realizing without a
necessary practice of discrimination against higher qualified Caucasians in favor of lower
qualified minorities. This discrimination not only harmed Caucasians such as Ms.
Atkins, it also (is) likely harmful to the students of the district whose education is at
*** "[This policy of racial
targets and quotas] is also unnecessary because African Americans are clearly not being
discriminated against in the district and there is no reasonable danger that they will
*** "In this case, the political majority
has adopted and continued a racial preference on its own behalf. Whatever the merits
of affirmative action as a general matter, when, as in this case, governmental action
adversely affects political minorities [such as white, qualified applicants like Sandy
Atkins] , strict judicial review of these race-conscious measures is especially
appropriate, even imperative."
In June 2000, the Benton Harbor Area Schools district was fined $500 by a federal judge
for failing to meet deadlines in Atkins lawsuit. The district is overdue in
producing required information pertaining to why Atkins wasn't hired, other required
discovery documents and evidence, and a list of witnesses for the Benton Harbor district.
Benton Harbor was ordered by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville to produce the
overdue discovery documents in the case involving Benton Harbor schools teacher Sandra
Atkins. If the district fails to provide the required discovery documents, Judge
Scoville could impose a bigger fine or could rule favorably on portions of Atkins
case resulting in a default judgment against Benton Harbor.
Benton Harbors black superintendent, Renee Williams, defended the districts
racial targets and quotas, calling the Benton Harbor racial quota policy
"pioneering". Michigans State Department of Civil Rights
helped Benton Harbor develop its controversial quota policy.
|(5) Falsified Credentials for Diversity:
of the school principal jobs in Benton Harbor for which Sandra Atkins applied was filled
in August 1999 by a black woman, Audrey Brinkely, who purchased a fake masters
degree only a few months earlier in order to win the job. (The district requires that all
school principals hold a masters degree.)
Apparently, the Benton Harbor district is so dedicated to hiring the right number of
blacks that they purposely ignored the fact that Brinkely's so-called degree was from a
non-accredited degree mill which awards master's degrees in as little as 30 days for
"life experience" and for a fee ranging from $410 to $675. Audrey
Brinkley's deposition in the lawsuit states that she did not attend any classes or do any
course work to earn this degree, but rather that the mail order degree was conferred upon
her based on her accumulated experience as a teacher.
Audrey Brinkley (black) beat out Sandy Atkins (white) for the promotion to the job of
principal of two very desirable magnet schools in the Benton Harbor district: The
Lafayette Creative Arts Academy, and the Fairplain Northwest Gifted and Talented Academy.
And Brinkley did it with a purchased, bogus master's degree. It is logical to
assume that Superintendent Renee Williams and others who approved Brinkley's promotion
were aware of the questionable validity of Brinkley's mail-order degree. They just
hoped no one would notice.
By contrast, Sandra Atkins earned a masters degree from a legitimate, accredited
school (Western Michigan University) where she performed many years of actual study and
hundreds of hours of real course work -- at her own expense.
Audrey Brinkleys mail-order degree is from a Mail Boxes, Etc. address for
"Trinity College and University." Brinkley purchased her "master's
degree" only months before her promotion to the lucrative principal's position in the
None of the 6 or 7 accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education have
ever issued accreditation to any institution named " Trinity College and
Since Sandra Atkins is white, and Audrey Brinkley is black, and since Atkins has a real,
hard-earned master's degree and Brinkley does not, one might logically conclude that skin
color is the real qualification required to be promoted to a school principal
position in the Benton Harbor school district. Certainly this presumption is
supported by reading the school district's aggressive racial-quota hiring policies.
Audrey Brinkley has refused repeated attempts by news media to obtain her side of the
story regarding her mail-order degree.
Incredibly, in March 2000 the Benton Harbor district announced that Audrey Brinkley will
be allowed to keep her principals position -- in spite of her bogus master's degree
-- as long as Brinkley enrolls in classes at a real, accredited college or
As of May 2000 Benton Harbor has not revealed where Ms. Brinkley will attend
school. Nor has the district been forthcoming about who is paying for
Brinkley's real coursework toward a real master's degree. (Note
that Sandy Atkins had to pay for her own degree.) But the district did say
that Brinkley will be required to complete 5 semester hours per year of legitimate course
work toward a legitimate masters degree in order to keep her principals
(When I was in college, 5 semester hours of coursework meant that we were expected to
attend 5 hours per week of actual classes, and we were expected to spend an additional 10
hours per week studying and doing class assignments. That's 15 hours per week of
structured studying. Will Audrey Brinkely actually be doing 15 hours worth of
coursework until she earns a real master's degree?)
Benton Harbor's acceptance of Audrey Brinkley's bogus degree also jeopardized the
accreditation of the schools over which Brinkley will preside as principal. The
North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS) is the recognized body
responsible for reviewing the accreditation of these schools.
NCACS is concerned about Brinkley's qualifications, and has asked the Benton Harbor
administration to specify the steps they are taking to maintain the NCACS accreditation of
Brinkley's schools in light of Brinkely's questionable master's degree.
Benton Harbor wrote a letter to NCACS and other accrediting agencies stating, in
part: "The [Benton Harbor] district just recently discovered that Ms.
Brinkley's master's degree was awarded by a university which is not regionally
accredited." The district avoided addressing the fact that Brinkleys
mail-order degree was awarded by an institution that is not accredited by any
recognized authority. The district also avoided admitting that they were very well
aware of the bogus nature of Brinkley's master's degree and that they accepted it anyway,
hoping no one would notice.
A local newspaper asked Superintendent Renee Williams if Brinkley had a legitimate
master's degree. Supt. Williams refused to address the legitimacy of the
degree. Instead, Williams would only say "She [Brinkley] has a master's
News, Links and Background - Atkins v. Benton Harbor
(8) Editorial "Questions Remain in Degree
(7) Benton Harbor teacher with "degree mill" degree will go to real school for
(6) District fined for missing deadline in suit
(5) Principal's credentials challenged (05/23/00)
(4) Benton Harbor principal's master's degree raises some questions (04/02/00)
(3) Teacher claims BH schools' affirmative action policy discriminates (02/25/00)
(2) Benton Harbor teacher's lawsuit raises questions about school district's affirmative
action policy (01/30/00)
(1) White teacher files bias suit against BHAS (01/19/00)
Updates in Atkins v. Benton Harbor Schools (posted 04/15/01)
[See Also: Updates and Synopsis 7/26/02, below]
- At this writing (04/15/01) Benton Harbor Area
Schools (BHAS), defendant, has repeatedly refused to supply required documents to the
Court. As a result, this case has been delayed (rescheduled) for hearing in October
- This tactic by the BHAS quota supporters follows a
familiar pattern in such cases: delay and extend the proceedings until the complainant
(white plaintiff Sandra Atkins) runs out of money for lawyers.
- The defendant, BHAS and black superintendent Renee
Williams, did not produce discovery documents as commanded by the Court. Plaintiff's
attorney had to file a motion to demand that BHAS produce the legally required documents.
Defendants, BHAS and superintendent Renee Williams, were given a mere slap on the
wrist by the Court and a $500 fine.
- Audrey Brinkley is the black teacher with the
mail-order master's degree who was given the promotion instead of Sandy Atkins. The
school district said that Ms. Brinkley would be allowed to keep her principal's position
-- in spite of her bogus master's degree -- as long as she completes 5 semester hours per
year of legitimate course work toward a legitimate master's degree at an accredited
school. As of April 15, 2001 Ms. Brinkley has not made any arrangements to
take the required 5 semester hours of courses every year, yet she still holds the
But BHAS's defense of their racially
discriminatory teacher quotas continues unabated:
- The school district changed lawyers, and they
tried to have the case transferred to a different judge who is more sympathetic to racial
quotas (this is called "venue shopping" -- seeking a court or judge who is more
likely to rule favorably for the Benton Harbor Area Schools' racial quotas).
- Superintendent Renee Williams refused to give her
deposition on the date it was scheduled.
- BHAS defendants Rick Garrison and Renee Williams
repeatedly perjured themselves in their depositions in an attempt to smear the character
of plaintiff Sandra Atkins.
- Plaintiff Atkins considers herself fortunate that
she has witnesses who can and will testify on her behalf and thus directly contradict the
misrepresentations made by Garrison and Williams.
- One of the attorneys defending BHAS's racial
quotas is a personal injury lawyer and he has used his skills to get releases of the
medical records of plaintiff Sandra Atkins dating back to the late 1980's, even though Ms.
Atkins' medical condition has never been an issue in this case. [Ms. Atkins
has received counseling beginning in August of 2000 because of the stress caused by BHAS's
racial discrimination, and she received marriage counseling in 1990.]
- At this writing (Apr. 15, 2001) Ms. Atkins'
lawyer, William Piper, is preparing a motion to the Court to have Benton Harbor Area
Schools' racial preference policies declared unconstitutional. Plaintiff's counsel
feels that the recent University of Michigan judgment against racial quotas will work in
- Based on her experiences of delays and dishonesty
by BHAS, plaintiff Sandra Atkins says that now she understands why the (white) teachers
who preceded her have chosen to leave the school district rather than fight against the
racial quotas of BHAS.
Attorney for Sandra Atkins:
Sandra Atkins' attorney is:
2700 Old Centre
Portage, MI 49024
Phone (269) 323-3400
Fax (269) 323-3418
Synopsis and Update July 26, 2002:
Below are summaries of several news stories which have been published in the past year
regarding this case. Atkin's settled with Benton Harbor Area Schools in October
The stories below are presented in chronological order (oldest to newest), and they are
excerpted from the excellent coverage provided by The Herald-Palladium. The stories
span the dates from June 17, 2001 to Sept. 29, 2001 -- just before the parties reached a
settlement. See also Settlement, above.
June 17, 2001 -- "Arguments
slated in BH Area Schools reverse bias lawsuit"
"LANSING - A federal judge could decide Monday [June 18, 2001 at 2:30 PM, U.S.
District Judge David McKeague presiding] whether a white Benton Harbor Area Schools
teacher's lawsuit claiming racial discrimination against the district merits a
Atkins is described by Benton Harbor defense attorneys as a "band teacher"
rather than as "an educator, motivator and advocate for children".
School district lawyers have filed a motion to have the case dismissed for what they claim
is a lack of evidence. [Judge McKeague has stated that circumstantial evidence cases
come to jury trial all the time.]
"The reason why she didn't get the positions she sought was because she didn't have
the necessary qualifications or experience, and experience being the important one,"
said Gary Stec of the Harvey Cruz law firm in Grand Rapids, which is representing the
school district. "She never had classroom experience, she never took positions
that would have given her that direct day-to-day experience dealing with students day in
and day out, year to year, making decisions on whether they get passed or whether they get
According to The Herald-Palladium, Atkins' personnel files show the following:
- 1974: Atkins is awarded a Bachelor's degree
in music education, Michigan State University
- 1974 to 1983: Two years as a band
instructor; then seven years as a choir and a band instructor (at the elementary school
- 1983 to 1993 (approx): Sandra Atkins left
teaching to raise her children. The family moved to the Twin Cities area in 1993.
- 1993: Atkins began teaching in the Benton
Harbor schools -- her first teaching employment in 10 years. She also continued
working part time on her Master's degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan
- 1995: Atkins was awarded her Master's
degree from WMU. She began applying for administrative jobs within the school system
shortly after receiving her degree.
- 1999: By 1999 Ms. Atkins had been
turned down for over 10 administrative jobs in the Benton Harbor system, several of which
she alleges were awarded to less qualified blacks. It was at this time that she
applied for a principal's job; this is the job that was awarded to a black woman with 30
years of teaching experience in the school system, Ms. Audrey Brinkley.
- (Benton Harbor's attorneys also state that Atkins also
applied for 24 administrative jobs outside the Benton Harbor system, and that she was also
turned down for all of those jobs. Benton Harbor argues that all the other 24
schools could not have racially discriminated against Atkins, and that Atkins clearly and
simply didn't have enough experience for any of the jobs for which she applied.)
school district's lawyers have argued that while the principal's position technically
required a master's degree, the school's requirements do not stipulate that the degree be
from an accredited university!
Sandy Atkins, through her lawyer, William Piper of Kalamazoo, argues in the lawsuit that
Benton Harbor's 1986 affirmative action policy is not necessary today since blacks because
(a) blacks control the district which they did not in 1986; and (b) blacks are obviously
not being discriminated against.
According to The Herald-Palladium, attorney Piper "argues that by promoting blacks at
a faster rate than whites, the district is discriminating against whites such as
Atkins. "Given the severe underrepresentation of minorities in the teaching
profession, this goal would be impossible to realize or even come close to realizing
without a necessary practice of discrimination against higher qualified Caucasians in
favor of lower qualified minorities," the suit states. "This discrimination not
only harmed Caucasians such as Ms. Atkins, it also (is) likely harmful to the students of
the district whose education is at stake."
Abstracted from The Herald-Palladium story as
originally reported by Mike Rupert (Herald-Palladium staff writer) on June 17, 2001
Last Known Link:
June 19, 2001 -- "Deseg
order pops up in discrimination suit"
their July 18 hearing before U.S. District Judge David McKeague in Atkins v. Benton Harbor
Schools, Atkins lawyer, William Piper, moved to declare the school district's 1986-era
affirmative action policy unconstitutional, and to stop the Benton Harbor district from
using job applicants' race as a factor in employment decisions.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the desegregation order which created Benton Harbor's
affirmative action policy was imposed in 1981 by another sitting federal judge, U.S.
District Court Judge Douglas Hillman in Grand Rapids.
According to The Herald-Palladium, Judge McKeague said "he wishes to clarify the
intent of Hillman's 1981 order, which included a recommendation that the [Benton Harbor]
district should fill principal vacancies "in a way that at least 50 percent of these
administrative positions are eventually held by black professionals."
Atkins' motion before Judge McKeague to declare the policy unconstitutional puts Judge
McKeague in a difficult position.
Monday's (7/18/01) hearing, Judge McKeague said that he is reluctant to issue a ruling
which would encroach on Judge Hillman's 1981 ruling. Instead, he directed the
plaintiff (Atkins) and defendants (Benton Harbor) to submit questions in the next 10 days
for consideration by Judge Hillman.
Abstracted from The Herald-Palladium story as
originally reported by Mike Rupert (Herald-Palladium staff writer) on June 19, 2001
Last Known Link:
September 29, 2001 -- "Benton
Harbor School District near settlement with teacher who alleged race bias"
all too often happens in reverse discrimination cases, the complainant/plaintiff -- Sandra
Atkins -- may be prohibited from disclosing the amount or terms of her settlement with the
Benton Harbor school system.
is the way of the racial quota lobby -- called "race merchants" by some -- who,
above all else, do not want other white victims of reverse discrimination to know the
details of reverse discrimination settlements. In that way the race merchants can
pretend there was never any legal issue regarding reverse discrimination in the first
Lawyers for the Benton Harbor Area Schools district -- whose job it is to defend Benton
Harbor against reverse discrimination charges -- apparently have managed to induce
plaintiff Sandy Atkins into signing a non-disclosure agreement regarding their settlement
with her regarding her reverse discrimination lawsuit, which she filed on January 6, 2000.
According to The Herald-Palladium, as of Sept. 29, 2001 a "secret" settlement
between Benton Harbor schools and white plaintiff Sandy Atkins is at hand. In
keeping with the race merchants' past practices, neither party is willing to discuss the
terms of the settlement.
Thus, other white school teachers who are subjected to reverse discrimination at the altar
of racial hiring quotas will not have the benefit of knowing the terms of this settlement.
of the Sept. 29, 2001 Herald-Palladium new story, the "secret" settlement has
not yet become official and nothing has been signed. But both sides refuse to
disclose the details.
of this web posting (July 23, 2002) Adversity.Net is not aware of the final disposition of
this case, but we will post it here as soon as we learn of it.
Abstracted from The Herald-Palladium story as
originally reported by Mike Rupert (Herald-Palladium staff writer) on Sept. 29, 2001
Last Known Link:
Also be sure to see Benton Harbor Race Riots posted June 20,
END Case 22: White Teacher Sandra Atkins v. Benton