WOMEN PREVAIL IN $508 MILLION
SEX DISCRIMINATION CASE
AGAINST THE U.S. GOVERNMENT
(Washington, D.C., March 22, 2000) Plaintiffs in the largest class action case in the history of the Civil Rights Act announced today that they will accept $508 million to settle the claims of 1100 women who were denied jobs at the Voice of America and the United States Information Agency because they are women. The proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, comes 23 years after the suit was filed, and 16 years after the same court found the government guilty of discriminating against women.
Today's agreement in Hartman v. Albright came after the women prevailed in 46 out of the first 48 individual claims reviewed by the Court, and the government was ordered to pay those class members back pay and interest totaling $22.7 million. Many of those women were also awarded job relief and Federal government retirement accounts. The $22.7 million in individual awards will be paid by the government in addition to the $508 million settlement. Since 1984, the government has filed and lost two appeals and has been denied a hearing by the Supreme Court. Until today's settlement, the government had insisted on contesting every woman's claim, one-by-one, before a court-appointed special master.
Lead attorneys Bruce Fredrickson and Susan Brackshaw of Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw said the trials revealed that the USIA and the VOA regularly manipulated the hiring process to exclude women. The special master found that the Agency "rigged the system" in favor of men resorting, in some cases, to test fraud, alteration of test scores, pre-selection of men, and destruction of key personnel and test files even while the lawsuit was pending.
"There was overwhelming evidence of obvious, persistent, entrenched discrimination," said Fredrickson. "Highly qualified women with specific relevant experience were routinely rejected in favor of men with fewer skills and less experience."
"This settlement is a tribute to the commitment and courage of 1100 women who stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of deep-rooted discrimination and would not surrender even after two decades of litigation. This day belongs to them," said Brackshaw.
The women applied for jobs as international radio broadcasters, radio broadcast or electronic technicians, writer/editors, and production specialists between 1974 and 1984. Many of the women who were denied jobs had been experienced broadcasters from the BBC and other national and international news outlets, qualified writers and reporters, or experienced technicians and producers for network television and radio in the United States.
By separate Court order, another portion of the class, those who applied for positions as entry level Foreign Service Officers during 1978-1983, were entitled to compete for thirty-nine jobs with the Foreign Service. Those women were appointed during 1992-1994 and are currently on duty at embassy posts throughout the world.
The attorneys cited examples of USIA and VOA discrimination:
Dona De Sanctis, a Ph.D. and former broadcaster for Vatican Radio in Rome, was rejected in favor of a male with no experience in journalism, whose qualifying test was "rigged," according to the special master, and whose previous job experience was as a waiter.
An experienced female broadcaster applying with the VOA was relegated to working for seven years on a contract basis, without the salary or benefits of full time employment. During this period three men with little or no broadcasting experience were hired.
Following the trial of the claim of Jahanara Hasan, who applied for a broadcaster position in the Bangla language, the special master found that the Agency's destruction of test files "plainly fell outside the regular course of document destruction claimed by the Agency and supports an inference that test files were destroyed to conceal evidence of discrimination in the test evaluation process." A number of other trials revealed similar wrongful destruction of documents by the government.
Agency officials changed the test scores of men to avoid hiring women who actually scored higher on qualifying written and voice tests.
One woman was required twice to take and pass the qualifying test, but was not considered for at least two job openings, which the Agency filled with two males based on expired test scores, in violation of hiring regulations and procedures.
Dilara Hashem, a renowned broadcaster whose career spanned 18 years when she applied for a Bangla language job with the VOA, was rejected for full-time employment in favor of a male who failed the qualifying test and whose voice a test evaluator had deemed "monotonous and artless" and in need of "a lot of coaching."
During a break while taking a qualifying test, a woman applying for a broadcasting position was harassed by two male employees and told that she "had a lot of nerve" applying. They accused her of trying to take a job away from a man, stating "You are taking away practically the bread. . . from a man's mouth, from his family."
In another case, a male who did not speak Czech fluently was moved temporarily into a Czech broadcaster job, blocking the hiring of an experienced female broadcaster who was a Czech native.
The $508 million settlement is the largest award in the history of the Civil Rights Act. Under the law, the government will be required to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees over and above the amount of the settlement. In addition to the lead attorneys at the firm of Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw, attorneys at Crowell & Moring and at Heller, Huron, Chertkof, Lerner, Simon & Salzman represented the class of women.
The foregoing is the press release issued on March 22, 2000 by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Webster, Fredrickson & Brackshaw which served as counsel to the plaintiffs in this complaint.