After 18 years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has green lighted a race discrimination class action against the U.S. Marshals Service.
The EEOC commissioners reversed a decision by an agency administrative law judge denying class certification and dismissing the complaint, ruling that the evidence "supports Complainant's assertions that a class of employees within the Agency has been discriminated against due to their race."
For the government, the potential exposure could be huge. There are no punitive damages in EEOC administrative complaints against the government, but the class of plaintiffs — which could possibly include thousands of African American Marshals Service employees since 1994 — are eligible for compensatory damages, back pay and front pay.
Plaintiffs counsel David Sanford, a partner and founder at Sanford Wittels & Heisler, called the class certification "a very welcome outcome…We are prepared to move forward immediately to ensure there are no further delays in securing justice for the many African American men and women whose employment by the [Marshals Service] has been adversely affected by its illegal practices."
Sanford represents the complainant and class representative Matthew Fogg, who already won a $4 million jury verdict for his individual claim of discrimination. But Sanford said the class claims had been "inadvertently and quietly dismissed" earlier by the agency.
On appeal to the EEOC commissioners, the plaintiffs included declarations from 22 black employees of the Marshals Service alleging discrimination.
For example, one employee said he was hired at a lower pay grade than white employees even though he had a law enforcement background. Another said that despite being the most senior person in a division, he was bypassed for a promotion in favor of a white man who had never worked in the division. Another complained that unlike white counterparts, he was never promoted to the GS 13 pay grade during 25 years of service.