A Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer is suing the agency for racial discrimination, alleging that she was denied pay raises and harassed because she is African-American.
According to a complaint filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Ronesha Butler was hired by the SEC in 2003 as an attorney-adviser, then promoted to senior counsel in the Office of Market Supervision in 2004.
Her then-supervisor, Nancy Burke-Sanow, is white, and Butler claims that she was “subjected to an ongoing and hostile work environment by her supervisor because she was African-American.”
As examples, Butler says that when she went on maternity leave, she had to fill out four months of daily leave requests, but other employees didn’t have to request leave in this manner. She also said her supervisor made racist comments, saying Butler’s mother was “only qualified to work as an administrative secretary,” when in fact she knew she was a registered nurse.
When Butler took leave to care for her mother after a heart attack, she claims her supervisor told colleagues she was “on an extended last-minute vacation” – which Butler said caused her “humiliation and degraded her in the eyes of her peers.”
Burke-Sanow also allegedly asked co-workers about Butler’s performance and made “unwarranted disparaging comments.” When Butler teleworked, she questioned whether she was actually working and subjected to her to more scrutiny than other workers, according to the complaint.
Butler said she was assigned “non-attorney administrative tasks” rather than substantive work that would advance her career. In 2006, Butler was denied a merit raise because Burke-Sanow “omitted information related to Ms. Butler’s excellent performance.” She noted that other lawyers who are not African-American but received the same overall rating did get pay raises.
After Butler filed an EEO complaint, she said her supervisor retaliated against her by taking away work duties and excluding her from meetings and emails.
In 2008, Butler got a new supervisor. She continues to work at the SEC.
Butler, who is represented by Gary M. Gilbert & Associates in Silver Spring, Md., is asking for back pay and compensatory damages of at least $600,000, plus attorney fees.