Ex-Kentucky transportation official claims ‘discriminatory practices’ in minority business program
Reed Hampton, a former investigator for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's disadvantaged business program, made the allegations in a lawsuit involving a contract on the Ohio River Bridges Project.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A former Kentucky Transportation Cabinet employee who helped regulate a minority contracting program says in a sworn statement that he resigned in frustration over the agency’s “discriminatory practices,” including its treatment of African-American business owners.
Reed Hampton claims in an affidavit in a federal lawsuit that he lodged two complaints with the Transportation Cabinet in August 2013 after other state workers improperly pushed for a Louisville company to lose a designation that aids women- and minority-owned businesses on public projects.
“I gave the Cabinet examples of white female company owners who received better treatment in the application process than similarly situated black female company owners,” Hampton said, according to court records. “I also observed that black company owners were not treated fairly and were discriminated against by the Cabinet and I gave the Cabinet examples of this as well.”
Transportation Cabinet spokesman Ryan Watts declined to comment on Hampton’s allegations because the lawsuit is pending.
WDRB News has requested copies of the complaints under Kentucky’s open records law. The Transportation Cabinet’s records custodian said in an email Monday that those documents should be ready by September 19.
Hampton’s affidavit was filed August 31 in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville. Mathis & Sons and owner Maureen Mathis sued the Transportation Cabinet in 2014, alleging the state issued a “fraudulent letter” that kept the company from getting a contract on the $2.3 billion Ohio River Bridges Project.
The contract would have paid Mathis $13,400 a month, according court documents.
Mathis officials say in the lawsuit that Walsh Construction had agreed to hire them as long as they kept a minority-owned status and got another approval. But Walsh, which is involved in building both bridges, had filled the position by the time Kentucky’s approval came through months later.
Hampton said he was the lead investigator in the Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Civil Rights and Small Business Development when Mathis applied for a certification for consulting work in April 2013. After visiting the company, he said he urged a state committee to approve the extra qualification.
In his statement, Hampton said he couldn’t recall a single instance in which that committee hadn’t approved one of his recommendations. While on medical leave, he claims, other state employees “had written and forwarded a very different recommendation to the committee.”
Not only did that document ask that Mathis be denied its consulting certification, but it also sought to remove the company from the state’s list of “disadvantaged business enterprises,” Hampton said.
“The recommendation they forwarded to the committee was drafted to appear as though it was mine when it was not,” Hampton said.
A Transportation Cabinet employee who aided Hampton, Shella Eagle, said in a deposition filed in the case that she was told by Tyra Redus, then-director of the agency’s civil rights department, to write a report recommending that Mathis not get the consulting certification.
Redus also told Eagle to urge the committee to remove Mathis from the disadvantaged business program entirely, Eagle said.
Redus was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear as an administrative law judge in the state’s Department of Workers Claims last December, but she later declined the position. That move cleared the way for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to name Democratic state Rep. Tanya Pullin to the post.
Redus, who now works for the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But she denied Eagle’s claims, according to court records.
The Transportation Cabinet has asked a judge to dismiss the Mathis lawsuit. The state provided a different account in a July court filing, saying its inspectors needed more time to answer questions about the company’s ownership.
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