NC speaker, Senate leader testify at employment bias trial
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Two of North Carolina’s most powerful legislators took the witness stand this week in a long-running federal employee discrimination case filed by the former head of the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal analysis office.
House Speaker Tim Moore answered questions on Tuesday in a Wake County courtroom from lawyers for ex-Fiscal Research Division director Marilyn Chism and for the state. Senate leader Phil Berger testified on Monday.
Chism is a black woman who alleges she was forced out of the job after two years in 2011. Chism, who worked for the General Assembly for 13 years, contends she was pushed out by white men who ran the House and Senate, even as white men in other legislative divisions kept their leadership positions. She wants the federal judge hearing the case to declare gender or racial bias occurred and to award her monetary damages.
In 2011, Republicans had just taken control of both General Assembly chambers simultaneously for the first time in 140 years. Berger was Senate leader at the time. Moore was chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee under then-Speaker Thom Tillis, who is now a U.S. senator.
Tillis testified last year in the case, denying that race and gender played any role in Chism’s departure. Berger said the same Tuesday in a brief interview.
Instead, Tillis testified Chism wasn’t doing a good enough job leading the division as it helped lawmakers assemble the state budget during a massive shortfall. Tillis testified his decision was based on input from staff, fellow House Republicans and his own observations, and after consultation with Berger.
Moore, whom like Berger was called to testify by state government lawyers, testified Tuesday there had been similar complaints about Chism’s division, which also works to calculate the cost of carrying out proposed legislation.
“There had been just a general concern that we were getting inaccurate legislation during this time,” Moore said. “There were delays in the numbers being delivered. I remember just a dissatisfaction.”
Under cross-examination by Chism attorney Stewart Fisher, Moore acknowledged he had no direct knowledge of why Chism was forced to resign or whether it was caused by the handling of specific legislation. That’s important because Chism’s complaint said a Tillis aide also was unhappy with how the fiscal agency calculated the cost of implementing a proposed voter identification bill in 2011, saying it was too high.
Moore was a primary sponsor of that measure, which never was implemented because then-Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the approved bill. This and other ID bills approved this decade have been opposed by mostly Democratic legislators and civil rights activists who argue such mandates make it harder for minority residents to vote.
Moore said he did have problems with the division’s calculations, saying some high projections were based on faulty assumptions.
“It didn’t seem to add up,” Moore said. He said he thought it would be good to examine how much other states spent to implement voter ID, like Georgia.
Former Tillis and Berger staff members could testify before the hearing ends this week. Administrative Law Judge George Jordan would rule later. His decision could be appealed.
The hearing has progressed in fits and starts. Tillis testified in May 2018. The resumption of the case was rescheduled twice — once due to Hurricane Florence and the other because of the federal government shutdown. Jordan is a Coast Guard judge based in Seattle.