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Two more allege discrimination

One former and another current GW employee have joined a lawsuit filed against the University and a top official, claiming they faced racial discrimination on the job.

Former University employee Audrey L. Johnson’s original lawsuit filed last March was amended last semester to include two more women, Mary K.L. Wallace and Tiffani A. Worthy. Worthy no longer works at the University.

The plaintiffs allege that Senior Associate Vice President for Administration Edwin Schonfeld and the University injured them by unlawful discrimination on the basis of their race, and through GW’s “retaliation” against them after each plaintiff complained of racial discrimination at work, according to U.S. District Court documents.

GW and Schonfeld were ordered by the court to respond to the amended complaint by Dec. 15. Online court records show no answer was filed for the case as of Jan. 12.

“We take all allegations of discrimination very seriously and investigate them thoroughly. As is our policy, we do not comment on the specifics of personnel matters or ongoing litigation,” University spokeswoman Candace Smith said.

The three plaintiffs each filed formal complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a “Notice of Right to Sue” for each of them. A right to sue tells an employee they are able to bring their case to court.

The lawsuit brings forth seven counts, including unlawful termination, selective treatment/unlawful discrimination/hostile environment, unlawful retaliation and violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

The plaintiffs are requesting to have their jobs reinstated or be given a position of equal duties and responsibilities with equal pay and benefits, or that Johnson and Worthy be given front pay in lieu of reinstatement. The plaintiffs also request that they be awarded compensatory and punitive damages “in an amount to be determined by the jury at trial but not less than $300,000 per Plaintiff, per Count.”

Harris Butler, lawyer for the three plaintiffs, told The Hatchet last April that he and Johnson wanted to resolve the issue outside of court, however the amended complaint states that the plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial. Butler did not return a request for comment for this article.

Johnson, 38, worked at the University from December 1999 until March 2008 in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer, the complaint states. She started as a senior analyst and was promoted to director of Planning and Assessment.

Wallace, 46, lives in McLean, Va. She worked at GW for about 10 years. Between June 2005 and Jan. 8, 2008, Wallace was the managing director of the P&A department, where Johnson reported directly to her between June 2005 and November 2007.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Schonfeld “reorganized” the department beginning in September 2007 using race as a negative factor in determining who would keep positions of authority. Wallace and Johnson held the two most senior positions in P&A before Schonfeld’s reorganization, according to the complaint.

“After he assumed direction of the department, Schonfeld targeted both of these senior African American employees for negative and disparate treatment,” the complaint states.

In the document, the plaintiffs describe Schonfeld’s actions as designed to harass and intimidate them into resigning.

“From spring 2007 to early 2008, Schonfeld embarked on a series of actions to?remove responsibilities from Wallace and Johnson, to limit their involvement in departmental?leadership and involvement, and to marginalize their GWU employment relative to that of their?Caucasian peers,” according to the complaint.

The complaint said Schonfeld began reassigning employees who had worked under the two women, and by December 2007 Johnson was demoted to a different University department. Her employment was terminated after she filed a complaint with GW’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office. The next month Wallace’s position was eliminated from the department as well. She was later moved to a different department in the University.

“Upon information and belief, Johnson and Wallace were the only two employees?who were not offered comparable positions in Schonfeld’s ‘reorganized’ P&A department,” the complaint states.

Worthy, 32, is from Bowie, Md. She began working at GW in April 2007 as an Human Resources Business Partner, reporting to Schonfeld. Though she had seven years of HR experience and was a military veteran, she found out she was being paid below the industry standard, according to the complaint.

Another colleague, who was white, was being paid $20,000 more than Worthy, according to the complaint. After raising the issue with her supervisor, eventually GW increased Worthy’s salary. However, she claims her pay remained low compared to Caucasian employees.

The complaint states that Worthy then faced demeaning comments, personal attacks and threats to her position, among other actions.

Though she filed an EEOC complaint in fall 2009, in November that year Worthy involuntarily resigned after being “unable to withstand the cumulative effects of the selective, racially-based treatment.”

The complaint alleges these three women aren’t the only black employees to have faced racial discrimination from GW and Schonfeld.

The complaint claims the defendants “have engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminating against African American employees, including Plaintiffs, in the terms, conditions and privileges of their employment.”

This article was updated on Jan. 13, 2010 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Mary Wallace no longer works at the University. This is untrue. When her position was eliminated, she moved to a different department.

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