Social Security, workers agree to $7.7 million bias settlement

January 16, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

After working 30 years at Social Security's complex in Woodlawn, Gilbert Jefferson was fed up.

Jefferson had been turned down for dozens of promotions by 1991, and was increasingly frustrated as he saw better jobs awarded to white males with less seniority and fewer qualifications.

So when a white male was given the management analyst position that Jefferson had sought, he began setting up meetings with other black workers at Social Security to discuss suing over discrimination. At one of the first meetings, 37 black colleagues offered to put their accounts of discrimination into writing, he said.

"It wasn't just my problem, and it wasn't just a problem for one or two people," said Jefferson, 70, of Columbia.

Yesterday, the Social Security Administration announced a $7.7 million settlement in the administrative complaint filed in 1995 by Jefferson and two co-workers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement will mean cash for the 2,200 black males who worked at Social Security and might have been denied promotions and raises as far back as 1987.

As part of the settlement, Social Security officials agreed to have personnel decisions over the next four years monitored by a new oversight committee and an EEOC administrative judge.

At a news conference in Washington, Deputy Commissioner Paul D. Barnes said Social Security was admitting no wrongdoing in agreeing to a settlement.

Michael J. Kator, lawyer for the black workers, said the agreement must be approved by Administrative Judge Marlin D. Schreffler, who helped hammer out the settlement and is slated to monitor the agency's personnel actions.

Kator said the EEOC approved the complaint as a class action two years ago and agreed to include all 2,200 black males employed at Woodlawn since 1987 based on a statistical analysis of the agency's personnel decisions. The complaint was narrowed to black males because statistical data showed that as a group they were the most unfairly treated, he said

"We found when we did the statistical analysis that black women are treated badly, but not as badly as black males," Kator said.

Under the agreement, Kator's Washington law firm will net $1.4 million. The 2,200 black men will split $6.3 million, with each plaintiff's award determined by the level of damages, Kator said.

Jefferson, Ken A. Burden, 56, of Silver Spring and Harry M. Dunbar of Columbia filed the original complaint. As original plaintiffs, they each will receive an additional $80,000 in the settlement.

Barnes said Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart agreed to the settlement because it was in the best interests of all 10,000 employees at Woodlawn.

"SSA remains committed to assure that all employees are treated fairly," Barnes said.

Minorities make up more than 40 percent of Social Security's work force, and 21 percent of its senior executive ranks are black, the deputy commissioner said.

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