Sandra Atkins v. Benton Harbor Schools
White teacher Sandra Atkins alleges she has been denied a promotion on at least 10 occasions because she is white.

Racial Preferences = Racial Discrimination


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Case 22 - Sandra Atkins had a real degree from a real school, but a black teacher with a mail-order degree got the job!

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UPDATED July 26, 2002
Lawsuit filed Jan. 6, 2000 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.  Case SETTLED October 2001.

CURRENT STATUS:  Benton Harbor Area Schools reached a settlement with Ms. Atkins in October, 2001.  The parties are prohibited from discussing the specific terms of the settlement.  However, Adversity.Net is fairly certain that Sandy Atkins may have been awarded backpay to 1996 as well as attorney's fees.
NEW:   June 2003
Benton Harbor
Race Riots!
          Sandy Atkins is now 50 years old.   She was 47 when she began her reverse discrimination lawsuit against the Benton Harbor Area School district on January 6, 2000.

          As of this date, Ms. Atkins and her family have moved to a new town far enough away from Benton Harbor to be able to start fresh.  She is looking forward to starting a new teaching job in her new school district in the Fall of 2002.  Ms. Atkins reports that her new school really appreciates her skills and the working environment is friendly and cooperative.  She says the staff and faculty at her new school are definitely NOT racially hostile as they were in the Benton Harbor schools.

SIDEBAR:  District Judge David McKeague in whose court Sandy Atkins' case was heard may have been influenced in his decisions by the fact that President George W. Bush had nominated him to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.   As a presidential nominee, it is possible that Judge McKeague wanted to avoid ANY involvement in a controversial affirmative action case -- lest he, and by inference President Bush -- antagonize the racial special interests during Judge McKeague's confirmation hearings.

Case 22 Index - Atkins v. Benton Harbor
1. Reverse Discrimination - Sandy Atkins is qualified but was turned down 10 times
2. Beyond Affirmative Action - Benton Harbor schools actively practice racial quotas
3. Racial Numbers - The actual racial numbers in Benton Harbor
4. The Lawsuit - The charges filed against Benton Harbor
5. Falsified Credentials for Diversity - Black teacher with bogus degree wins job instead of Atkins
6. Links and News Articles - 1/19/00 to 8/5/00
7. UPDATE April 15, 2001 -  Benton Harbor Area Schools allegedly perjure themselves and use delaying tactics in the hope that defendant Sandra Atkins will run out of money for lawyers.
8. Attorney for Sandra Atkins - Mr. William Piper
9. Synopsis and UPDATE July 26, 2002 - Most recent news coverage leading up to settlement in Oct. 2002.

Benton Harbor Refuses to Promote White Teachers
Posted Aug. 8, 2000
Updated June 21, 2003

Racial Preferences Cost!

(1) Reverse Discrimination:

          Sandy Atkins is a highly qualified teacher in the Benton Harbor, Michigan school district.  She received a Master’s 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.

Update July 26, 2002:

Sandra Atkins reached a settlement with Benton Harbor Schools in October 2001.

See Especially Below:
(9) Synopsis and Update July 26, 2002

          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 Master’s 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 Master’s 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 Harbor’s black Superintendent, Renee Williams, has repeatedly passed Atkins over for less-experienced and less-qualified black faculty members.

(2) Beyond Affirmative Action:

          The Benton Harbor, Michigan school administration is dominated by black administrators and teachers.  The school district’s web page prominently boasts "We value diversity".

          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 district’s 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 indefinitely."

          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. 

(3) 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 percent minority.

          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 master’s 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 principal’s position at a magnet school in the district (the Creative Arts Academy), and one for the assistant principal’s job at the Hull Elementary School in the district.

          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 principal’s position at the district’s Creative Arts Academy.  Atkins finished first in the candidate interview process this time, but was again rejected in favor of an allegedly less qualified candidate.

(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 stake."

Update July 26, 2002:

Sandra Atkins reached a settlement with Benton Harbor Schools in October 2001.

See Especially Below:
(9) Synopsis and Update July 26, 2002

*** "[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 be."

*** "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 Harbor’s black superintendent, Renee Williams, defended the district’s racial targets and quotas, calling the Benton Harbor racial quota policy "pioneering".   Michigan’s State Department of Civil Rights helped Benton Harbor develop its controversial quota policy.

(5) Falsified Credentials for Diversity:

          One 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 master’s degree only a few months earlier in order to win the job. (The district requires that all school principals hold a master’s 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.

Update July 26, 2002:

Sandra Atkins reached a settlement with Benton Harbor Schools in October 2001.

See Especially Below:
(9) Synopsis and Update July 26, 2002

          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 master’s 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 Brinkley’s 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 district.

          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 University". 

          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 principal’s position -- in spite of her bogus master's degree -- as long as Brinkley enrolls in classes at a real, accredited college or university. 

          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 master’s degree in order to keep her principal’s job. 

          (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 Brinkley’s 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 degree."

(6) News, Links and Background - Atkins v. Benton Harbor

(8) Editorial "Questions Remain in Degree Flap (08/05/00)

(7) Benton Harbor teacher with "degree mill" degree will go to real school for master's (08/01/00)

(6) District fined for missing deadline in suit (06/15/00)

(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)

(7) 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 2001.
  • 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 principal's job!

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 their favor. 
  • 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.

(8) Attorney for Sandra Atkins:

Sandra Atkins' attorney is:

William Piper
2700 Old Centre
Portage, MI 49024

Phone (269) 323-3400
Fax (269) 323-3418

(9) 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 2001.

          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 trial."

          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 held back."

          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 level).
  • 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 University.
  • 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.)

          The 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"

          In 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."

          Thus Atkins' motion before Judge McKeague to declare the policy unconstitutional puts Judge McKeague in a difficult position.

          At 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"

          As 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.

          That 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 place.

          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.

          As 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.

          As 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, 2003

END Case 22: White Teacher Sandra Atkins v. Benton Harbor Schools


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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.