Suit against agency settled

Black male workers said Social Security used racial, sex bias

Policies to be changed

January 15, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Social Security Administration has settled a lawsuit involving 2,200 black male employees who had accused the agency of discriminating against them in promotions and pay because of their race and sex.

Attorneys for the employees, who worked at the agency's Woodlawn headquarters between 1995 and this year, said the group settled the class action for a "significant" amount of money - in the millions - and for changes in SSA policies on promotion and awards.

Details of the settlement are to be announced jointly at a news conference today, the lawyers and Social Security officials said yesterday. A spokesman for Social Security declined to comment on the settlement in advance of that announcement.

As part of the deal, the agency has agreed to install a committee of SSA employees to oversee the promotion process, said Michael Kator, a Washington lawyer who has represented the plaintiffs since 1995, when the suit was filed. The committee will monitor the process for four years.

The employees took to the courts after exhausting their options within the agency. In 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that they could jointly pursue their complaint as a class-action lawsuit.

Kator said the employees were prepared to go to trial, but a judge convinced both parties in November that they could settle it. "We could have slugged it out ... but this is a good solution for everybody," he said.

The 2,200 men represented by the lawsuit make up nearly all the black men who have worked at the agency since the lawsuit was filed. In any given year, about 800 black men work at the Social Security Administration headquarters, which employs about 10,000 people. The suit includes employees that have left the agency.

Year after year, Kator asserted, black men were overlooked for promotion and kept at low-grade jobs despite good performances. He also said black men were more likely to be disciplined than were other workers.

One of the men named in the suit, Kenneth A. Burden, was denied a promotion for the past 11 years, even though he was clearly qualified and had applied for a promotion more than 60 times, according to the complaint.

Agency officials have denied that discrimination exists in promotions or disciplinary actions, and they noted in 1999 that black men made up more than 10 percent of the agency's most senior executives.

Kator said the group plans to devise a formula to pinpoint those plaintiffs they believe were hurt most by the agency's policies and to divvy up the money accordingly.

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