A 13-year veteran paralegal in the Civil Rights Division has filed a suit claiming she was discriminated and harassed by managers who repeatedly passed her over for advancement because she is African-American.
Joi Hyatte's last promotion came in 1999 and she has been bypassed ever since because of her race, says the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Hyatte's suit accuses ex-voting section chief John Tanner and former section 5 unit chief Yvette Rivera of subjecting Hyatte and "her African-American colleagues to numerous forms of discrimination and harassment." It also says Main Justice failed to investigate the allegations and complaints filed by "multiple employees."
Despite outstanding annual reviews, Hyatte complains that DOJ "actively" sought only white and Hispanic candidates from outside the department for higher-paying analyst positions in the voting section. The vacancies were not offered to existing DOJ paralegals, which circumvented regular hiring procedures, according to the suit.
Hyatte claims Rivera "disproportionately" denied performance awards, including cash bonuses, to blacks and downgraded their evaluations "solely on their race."
The complaint also says Tanner failed to rein in or discipline three white male lawyers who "behaved in a racially and sexually offensive manner" toward two female analysts -- one white, the other black -- in February 2007:
"The attorneys mocked the Caucasian analyst for displaying pictures of prominent African-American civil rights activists and leaders on the walls of her office."
They also made other derogatory remarks.
David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor representing Hyatte, says at least six other African-Americans in the voting section have complained of similar treatment. Several filed complaints with DOJ's Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Hyatte wants a judge to order she get a promotion and back pay from since July 2006, when she took on more analyst work without the pay increase or title change.
"She's been a loyal, committed and dedicated employee who cares very much about the mission of the agency," says Vladeck, who works with the Institute for Public Representation, a clinical program at Georgetown University Law Center.
DOJ's Civil Division, which represents government agencies in lawsuits, is likely to step in and answer the suit.
"We probably haven't even been served as yet," says Charles Miller, a DOJ spokesman. "We would have to review the complaint to determine how we would ultimately respond in court."
Tanner, who left Main Justice last month for the Alabama Law Institute, could not be reached for comment.
He got in trouble last fall when he made an infamous remark about the impact of voter ID laws on minorities. "Minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first," Tanner told the National Latino Congress conference.
Rivera, who was replaced as acting section 5 unit chief earlier this year and now is in the litigation section, did not return a phone call seeking comment.