Charlotte airport administrator sues city, alleging racial discrimination

A prominent Charlotte Douglas International Airport administrator has sued the city in federal court for racial discrimination, alleging he was passed over for promotion in favor of white employees with less experience.

Assistant Aviation Director Herbert Judon, who is black, filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court. It’s the latest challenge for an airport that lost its longtime director in 2013 amid a power struggle between city leaders and state lawmakers in Raleigh.

Judon is often the face of Charlotte Douglas, representing the airport at news conferences and public events. Before Thanksgiving, he led the airport’s news conference on preparations for holiday travel.

In a statement, City Attorney Bob Hagemann declined to comment on the allegations but said the lawsuit “will have no effect on the City’s treatment of Mr. Judon as an employee.”

In the lawsuit, Judon says he has 19 years of experience working at Charlotte Douglas, in a variety of different roles. He also served as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and was awarded a Bronze Star during the most recent Iraq War.

In July 2013, when former Aviation Director Jerry Orr left (Orr and the city never agreed whether he resigned or was fired), Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee appointed Brent Cagle as interim aviation director.

At the time, Cagle and Judon were both assistant aviation directors, and Cagle had been at Charlotte Douglas for a little over a year.

“(Judon) was the only minority employee who held an assistant aviation director position,” the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, Cagle created a new deputy aviation director position, which the assistant aviation directors would now report to instead of reporting to the aviation director. Cagle named Jack Christine, another assistant aviation director, to the deputy post.

Cagle left a second deputy aviation director post unfilled so that he could “revert back” to that job if he was removed from his job as interim aviation director, the lawsuit said. Cagle remains interim aviation director, and no permanent director has been announced.

Both Cagle and Christine are white and, according to the lawsuit, “close personal friends outside of the work setting.” Christine had worked at Charlotte Douglas for 16 years but, according to the lawsuit, “Mr. Christine’s overall background and work experience was decidedly less stellar than was (Judon’s).” Christine had managed “less demanding” departments with fewer personnel and smaller budgets, the lawsuit said.

Judon complained about the deputy aviation director job being filled without a competitive process or search for candidates, contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Charlotte. When Christine’s position was made permanent in 2014, Judon filed a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC dismissed his charge and gave him the right to sue in August.

Judon is seeking to be named a deputy aviation director at Charlotte Douglas, with back pay dating to July 2013.

The leadership turnover at the airport goes back to a complicated fight for control of Charlotte Douglas. When Orr left in 2013, the city and state legislature were embroiled in a protracted battle in which the General Assembly was trying to take control of the airport from the Charlotte City Council and place it with a regional authority.

The city has opposed the move for years, and though the new airport commission was created, it remains in limbo, with no power to operate the airport. Orr had supported an independent authority to run Charlotte Douglas.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Related stories from Charlotte Observer