The hiring of a "political fixer" appears to have caused a legal problem for Texas Agriculture commissioner Sid Miller. A former top official with the Ag Department has filed a discrimination lawsuit: claiming she lost her job- because of cronyism and her race.
The lawsuit against Commissioner Sid Miller was brought by Shelia Latting. Her attorney, Susan Haney, says the case is more than an example of simple cronyism.
"Politics at play is definitely at play, but the race picture comes in when you have an African American candidate like Ms. Latting replaced by two lesser qualified Caucasian women, that’s when you get into the race factor,” said Haney.
Shelia Latting was the Deputy CFO for the Texas Department of Agriculture - and had worked for the state for more than 2 decades. According to Haney, Latting was promised a promotion to the top financial job by commissioner miller after he was elected in 2014. But when it came to start the job Latting claims her old boss hadn't left and she was the one forced out of the building.
"Needless to say she was shocked, surprised, wondered what had happened, thought there might have been a miscommunication,” said Haney.
According to the lawsuit - Latting' s promotion was derailed when Terry Keel was added to Miller's executive staff. At the time, keel moving from the state facilities commission and wanted to bring several loyal staffers with him. Latting got a reduction in force notice -- but believes the real reason she got let go was her race.
"And to be replaced by 2 Caucasian women who did not have the same qualifications, when other people could have been terminated to make room for these two folks, there is just no other explanation for it,” said Haney.
The CFO who Latting was told she would replace- ended up resigning.
In a statement sent to FOX7 - agriculture department spokesperson Lucy Nashed said;
“This issue has been through the full EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) process, including mediation and investigation, and the EEOC did not issue a cause determination."
The commission did issue a right to sue letter - which is why Latting wants a state job and at least $200-thousand in damages.
Miller is no stranger to controversy. While in the state house he pushed through abortion legislation. Shortly after taking office as Commissioner he made questionable posts on social media. He was criticized for hiring the wife of his campaign Chairman and for also giving big pay raises to key staff members. Political analyst Brian Smith from St. Edwards University says the controversies could become a ballot box issue for Texas Democrats.
“I don’t think it is necessarily arrogance or stupidity, I think it’s a person who is new at the job who doesn’t know how Texas politics work and is seeing how much they can get away with because they don’t know any better, so maybe it is a little bit of stupidity but I don’t think its necessarily arrogance,” said Smith.
He is also surprised a seasoned political veteran like terry keel triggered the lawsuit.
"But in a lot of Keel's decisions we are seeing what people don’t want, big budget spending, crony capitalism, this sorts of things, so on paper it looks good but the policies tend not to be what a lot of Texans want,” said Smith.
But Smith also says with state elections still two years away -- outside of a courtroom- few may care or even bother to remember how some of those in the Ag Department allegedly got their jobs.