Monday, October 1, 2012

Judge dismisses racism suit against Salem market

By Meg Hibbert

SALEM – A federal judge today dismissed a suit by a former vendor at the Salem Farmers’ Market, alleging she was discriminated against because of her race.

The order was entered Oct. 1 in the the United States District Court for Western Virginia. The case had been scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 16.

Former flower and produce vendor Yvonne Henderson filed the suit in 2008 and Judge James Turk had, in January of this year, set a trial date. He also encouraged Henderson and the City of Salem to settle their differences.

The order filed this week does not go into details, except to strike the suit from the docket of the court that meets in Roanoke.

The Salem Times-Register’s original coverage of the suit brought out the city said Henderson was asked to stop selling at the market because she was not growing her own produce.

Henderson sold flowers and vegetables at the market in 2007 and through July 2008. When the then-market manager and other city representatives made a required inspection of property where Henderson said she grew her produce, they learned she wasn’t growing what she sold at the Salem Farmers’ Market, according to Salem officials.

Subsequently, Mike Tyler, head of Salem’s Street Department and who oversees market operations, sent Henderson a letter revoking her privileges, the city said. Under City of Salem rules for the farmers’ market, produce vendors have to raise at least 75 percent of vegetables and fruit they sell within surrounding counties or owned or leased land. Vendors have to provide a list of their farm locations.

At one time, other vendors said, Henderson told them she was raising flowers and produce in Bedford County, and later, in Botetourt County.

Henderson, who was the only black vendor at that time, filed a racial discrimination suit, claiming other vendors at the Salem Farmers’ Market harassed her because she was black. She also said that Tyler used a racial slur when she complained to him about racial harassment.

A response filed on behalf of Tyler denied he said anything derogatory to Henderson when meeting with her about her complaints.

When the Salem Times-Register asked for the city’s response in January to Henderson’s allegations, Communications Director Mike Stevens sent this e-mail: “The City takes any and all accusations of this nature very seriously, but we are confident that these particular claims are absolutely false…When the city was informed that Ms. Henderson was no longer producing on either property, her privileges were revoked.”

 

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