Part two of a series on P&Z approved Campus Crest Communities
COLUMBIA, 1/25/11 (Beat Byte)
-- Lawsuits from former employees alleging racism, unpaid contractors,
and angry student tenants are in the baggage Campus Crest
Communities carries on the way to a Feb. 7
Columbia City Council meeting that may green light the student housing
developer. Columbia Planning and Zoning commissioners unanimously
recommended the firm's 632-bedroom student apartment project on Grindstone
Parkway and Rock Quarry Road last week.
"When something sounds too good to be true, it usually
is," University of South Alabama Vanguard newspaper editors wrote in a
Nov. 2007 editorial about Campus Crest. "The stories of broken promises, delayed openings, and initial
unfavorable living conditions were not just being told at the University of
South Alabama. Similar stories were also being told by students at Abilene,
Texas, and Ellensburg, Wash. Now, lawsuits can be added to this
Recent litigation against Campus Crest reportedly includes
a lease-misrepresentation class action and lawsuits
graphically illustrating a racially- and sexually-charged
workplace plaintiffs say became intolerable. Unpaid
contractors have filed dozens of liens in cities nationwide, over payment
practices some call "unusual" and "widespread."
White Like Me
Campus Crest officials directed staff members to "hire
predominantly young, white women," Charlotte, N.C.-based attorney Jennifer
Sharpe alleges on behalf of former Campus Crest managers Nicole
McAuliffe, Heather McCormack and Tammy Hughes Brown in 2010 lawsuits variously filed in state and
federal court. "We have Southern investors; they do not like for us to hire
blacks. Once you hire an African American, you never can get rid of them
because they think they are so entitled," are among reasons plaintiffs
claim company officials gave for discriminatory practices.
After she hired a black female at the Charlotte office,
McCormack claims one of her superiors asked, "Who hired the black girl with the
red hair?" later pressuring McCormack to terminate the employee.
The discrimination didn't stop with rhetoric, descending
into theatre of the absurd on several occasions, Sharpe writes. Company
officials directed her clients "to provide photographs taken from the Facebook
or MySpace pages of all applicants recommended for employment to ensure the
applicants were not African-American or too old."
Because one applicant "sounded black," and "had an
African-American-sounding first name," Campus Crest officials allegedly flew him
to corporate headquarters "to determine his race," Sharpe alleges. "As a result
of these discriminatory hiring practices, qualified men and women over the age
of forty (40), as well as qualified African American men and women, were
excluded from employment in favor of less-qualified, younger white women and
Life at the office was just as outlandish, the plaintiffs
allege, with a company investor referring to African-Americans as "Indians" and
saying in a board of directors' meeting that occupancy levels were down because
Campus Crest had hired too many "Indians."
Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins allegedly told plaintiffs
that a black property manager was running down a section of his apartments
by "throwing out his chicken grease at night." Plaintiff Tammy Hughes-Brown
says in her complaint that Rollins would routinely mimic black men, insisting
that he sounded like comedian Bernie
About the claims, Salon.com blogger Roger Shuler wrote in
December, Wall Street Darling Faces Discrimination Charges
and How Far Will One Company Go to Avoid Hiring
Company responses were not immediately
Unpaid bills and contractor
Initially thrilled by the prospect of such a large client
coming to town, several small town contractors later reported getting stiffed.
Nearly $600,000 in delinquent bills alarmed contractors in
Wichita who helped construct a 192-unit Campus Crest project, the Wichita
Eagle and Wichita Business Journal
reported in 2008 and 2009.
Campus Crest construction director Brian Sharpe said
administrative glitches and rushed construction deadlines caused the late
payments, assuring reporters that his firm would faithfully pay up.
"An investigation by The Daily Sentinel found
that Nacogdoches, Texas and area contractors remained unpaid for months after
completing construction work," that city's newspaper reported in 2008. "The Sentinel found 17 liens totaling more than $1.5
million filed in the Nacogdoches county clerk's office against Campus
Crest from October 2007 until February of this year, and dozens of
additional liens filed against the company in other counties in Texas, New
Mexico, Alabama, Georgia, Colorado and Washington."
Though contractors eventually released many of the liens,
"extended periods of nonpayment have put financial pressure on subcontractors
who performed work for the construction arm of Campus Crest."
"Inadequate funding and site work complicated by inclement
weather," were among reasons Campus Crest co-founder Michael Hartnett cited for
the slow payments. He also denied a pattern of non-payment, claiming that liens
are common in construction.
True enough. But some Nacogdoches-area contractors found
Campus Crest's practices "unorthodox, disreputable" and unusually widespread.
"Everyone had trouble with Campus Crest," pool contractor Danny Adkins, who
filed his own $14,140 lien against the firm, told the Daily Sentinel.
After an agreed-upon 4-month payment plan, Campus Crest still hadn't paid him.
"After this happened to me, I did a background check on
them and realized that this is their ongoing method of operation," another
contractor told the Daily Sentinel. "In every city they have built in,
they have swindled people and caused hardships."
The Campus Crest Controversy