A foreign services officer filed suit against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department this morning, alleging that she was denied placement in certain overseas posts because of her age.
In her complaint, Elizabeth Colton, 64, says that after serving as an international journalist for media outlets such as Newsweek, ABC News, NBC News, Asiaweek, and National Public Radio, she joined the Foreign Service in 2000 and quickly advanced up the ranks. Colton was given assignments in overseas posts in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, and Pakistan.
Colton's complaint (.pdf) filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says that in late 2008 she was offered a position as chief of the Political and Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, when she was then 63 years old. But shortly after she accepted the job, the offer was revoked when her supervisors realized that the two-year post would require her to work past the Foreign Service's mandatory retirement age of 65. The Foreign Service's human resources department informed Colton that she could not take the position and filled the post with another candidate.
The complaint says Colton applied for and was denied an exemption to work past the mandatory retirement age.
Colton has since taken a one-year post in Karachi, Pakistan as a public affairs officer.
Colton says in her complaint that after pushing back against the mandatory retirement age, she was allegedly subject to retaliation and told by senior Foreign Service officials that challenging the retirement issue "could jeopardize her career."
Colton's complaint, filed by a team of lawyers from Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, which is handling the case pro bono, and the Washington Lawyers' committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, alleges that the Foreign Service violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
"Because of [Clinton, in her official capacity's] discriminatory actions, Dr. Colton has sustained and will continue to incur injuries including loss of income, loss of employment opportunities, diminished retirement earnings, significant emotional stress, out-of-pocket expenses, and injuries to her professionally, including her reputation," the complaint says.
The complaint seeks an injunction to keep the mandatory retirement age from being implemented. She also seeks damages that include lost income and benefits and attorney fees.
“Imagine if someone told Hillary Clinton she couldn’t be Secretary of State because she would turn 65 before her term is up,” Thomas R. Bundy III, a Sutherland partner, said in an interview. “Just because you turn 65 it doesn't mean that you are incapacitated. You still have a lot to offer in service to our country.
The State Department's press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.