Allison Brown hopes a lawsuit will confirm what she sees as obvious — that after three years of working side by side at the Government Printing Office, a male colleague unjustly gets a bigger salary, nicer office and better opportunities.
Brown is the seventh woman this year to sue the GPO for sex discrimination. It has taken her three years to get to this point, two of them filled with internal counseling, hearings and meetings on the issue.
“The problem is it is as hard as heck to do what I’m doing,” she said, adding that the entire process is costly and draining but necessary. “I felt like I had no choice.”
Brown, 47, is the information dissemination controller, a high-ranking position that requires her to balance the books for a GPO division. She is paid more than $117,000 a year and consistently has moved up the pay ladder.
But Brown alleges that her counterpart, David Ford, gets preferential treatment. Hired on the same day, Ford is the controller for another division — a job that Brown alleges is on the same footing as her own. (An organizational chart on the agency’s Web site isn’t detailed enough to compare the two jobs, and a GPO spokesman declined to comment on the issue.) But, she says, he makes about $20,000 more, was given control of their shared secretary and is invited to attend meetings with senior executives.
Her lawsuit gets even more detailed: “Mr. Ford has received better and more perquisites in his position, including a larger office, higher quality furniture, and ‘top billing’ on the sign outside the main door to the office suite which he and plaintiff occupy (despite being subsequent in alphabetical order).”
It all adds up to a pattern of sex discrimination, Brown said.
“At some point, you see something that’s wrong and you just have to do the right thing,” she said.
Brown’s case has weaved its way through the agency’s equal employment opportunity office for years, beginning with counseling and culminating in a formal complaint in December 2005. A judge appointed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in favor of the agency this year, causing Brown to take her case to court.
Her lawyer, Theodore Allison, also represents Denise Colbert and Sheron Minter, who filed a lawsuit in July alleging that they were passed over for promotions at the GPO because of their race and gender. Allison has also handled several other discrimination cases against the agency over the past decade or so, some of which were successful or settled. But that doesn’t mean any were connected, he said.
“If there’s any commonality, it might simply be that some of these issues haven’t been addressed at the highest level at GPO,” he said.
Brown’s case differs in some significant ways with the other six women who filed discrimination lawsuits this year (all are pending). While the others all sued for race discrimination on top of the gender-related charges, Brown is white. She’s also higher-ranked, belonging to a classification pool that is considered a step below senior-level positions. She said the “last straw” for her was when she wasn’t allowed to enter the Excellence in Government Fellows Program, which is considered a prerequisite for top-tier officials. Brown said she directly applied to the program and initially was accepted, but that acceptance was rescinded to allow GPO to choose employees for the program on its own. Ford was chosen.
GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation but noted that Brown received an “adverse decision” from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC judges rarely rule that discrimination occurred in a federal agency: In fiscal 2006, the commission’s judges found discrimination in less than 5 percent of the cases they ruled on, according to EEOC statistics. That same year, none of GPO employees’ complaints brought to an EEOC judge resulted in a ruling of discrimination.
In Brown’s case, the judge never granted her a hearing and “accepted everything the GPO had to say,” Allison said.
“The main thing to focus on is how qualified she is and how virtually from the beginning she has been subjected to starkly different treatment,” he said.