- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

The Christian Coalition of America faces a second possible lawsuit by a white employee who says he was fired in retaliation last week because he refused to spy on 10 black employees who filed a discrimination lawsuit Feb. 23.

Trent A. Barton of Woodbridge, Va., a former Republican congressional aide and Gulf war Army veteran, was abruptly fired by telephone Tuesday night after he failed to fulfill a request by Tracy Ammons, the coalition's human resources director, to eavesdrop on the black employees whose lawsuit accuses the organization of racial discrimination, according to coalition sources.

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The coalition's Capitol Hill headquarters, located in the Fairchild Building on South Capitol Street SE, was in "crisis damage control" mode last week after officials received a 21-page racial discrimination complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the sources said.

The 10 black employees, who work in the coalition's remittance operation that receives mailed donations, are in a sequestered area separate from white employees in the legislative lobbying and state membership sections, according to the lawsuit.

The black employees have accused the coalition and Roberta Combs, its executive director, of failing to provide them health benefits provided to white employees; barring them from using the front door and kitchen break room that whites use; and not inviting black employees to office parties and coalition functions that white employees are invited to attend.

In a prepared statement provided to The Washington Times last Wednesday, Mrs. Combs said she "vehemently denies any accusation of discrimination of any kind."

The two-paragraph statement also said: "This pro-family organization, one of the most effective in the nation, is committed to fighting religious bigotry and defending expressions of faith in the public square and we view any act of discrimination as morally reprehensible."

Mr. Barton joined the coalition's staff Dec. 26 after applying to join its congressional lobbying staff but was assigned to help organize several coalition events associated with President Bush's inauguration while Congress was out of session, sources said.

When coalition officials received word of the impending discrimination lawsuit, Mr. Ammons, who is Mrs. Combs' son-in-law, asked Mr. Barton to eavesdrop on the black employees and report back any information he could find, but he refused, the sources said.

Mrs. Combs acknowledged in an interview Friday that Mr. Ammons dismissed Mr. Barton in a 10:30 p.m. telephone call to his home last Tuesday. But she denied the dismissal was retaliation for his refusal to spy on the black employees.

"That's a lie. That's absolutely absurd," she said.

"There wasn't any firing. He was hired on a 60-day contract to help us with an event," Mrs. Combs said. "After the 60 days was up, we would evaluate and see if we had a job for him. He was re-evaluated and there was no job here for him."

In the earlier discussions with Mr. Barton Tuesday, Mrs. Combs said, "We had talked about him working here" in another assignment following the inaugural events organized with Michele Ammons, Mrs. Combs' daughter, who also is on the coalition payroll. Mr. Barton had renewed his request to join the coalition's congressional lobbying team.

"He was expecting a call," Mrs. Combs said of plans for an early meeting Wednesday. The dismissal occurred late Tuesday night instead of the next day because "we didn't leave the office until late," she said. Mr. Ammons ordered Mr. Barton to come in Wednesday to clean out his desk.

Mr. Barton declined to comment about his dismissal.

"I respect the Christian Coalition and it saddens me that these management and discrimination issues have been forced to the forefront and have taken away from the Christian Coalition's good work and mission," he said.

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