AOC Draws Sexual Harassment Suit

Posted April 19, 2012 at 4:18pm

An Architect of the Capitol employee is suing her agency for allegedly tolerating several years of sexual harassment.

April Davis on Monday filed a lawsuit with the civil division of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She is seeking $300,000 in “compensatory damages for extreme embarrassment, humiliation and mental anguish,” which she says she endured for nearly eight years at the hands of her supervisor, Sterling Thomas.

Suing on counts of sexual harassment and hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and retaliation, Davis also wants “an award of economic damages to include back wages, lost overtime and, where appropriate, offsets for wages, retirement and other benefits, plus interest.”

“What can a vulnerable woman do when the decision-makers are predominantly male who are insensitive to her victimization?” Donald Temple, Davis’ attorney, asked Roll Call. “In spite of her complaining and complaining and complaining, she was Ralph Ellison’s proverbial ‘invisible woman.’”

According to her formal complaint, Davis was first hired by the AOC as a time and attendance clerk in February 2003. In the spring of 2004, upon announcing that she was pregnant so soon after the birth of another child, she alleges that Thomas asked, “Did you even wait six weeks?”

Davis reports that from this moment on, “a long period of condescension and disrespect” began. The complaint describes how Thomas allegedly denied her paid leave when she or her son had medical difficulties but suggested he would help her in exchange for sexual favors.

She charges that he would often offer financial assistance, and in one case a bottle of cognac, followed by the question, “What are you going to give me?” Davis also alleges that Thomas would also touch her inappropriately and stand too close to her.

The complaint does not describe in any graphic detail the nature of Thomas’ alleged advances, only that he always “solicited sexual favors” after allegedly dangling a promise of more money or paid leave before her.

Davis said she repeatedly rebuffed Thomas’ advances, and it led to his refusals to sign off on various requests for medical leave or overtime pay. Meanwhile, she says he was giving preferential treatment to other female employees who did respond well to his solicitations.

She first filed a complaint with the AOC’s Equal Employment Office, and Thomas allegedly told her it was a waste of time. When that mediation was not successful, Davis brought her case to the Office of Compliance, the second step certain legislative branch employees must take before they may file a lawsuit in court.

Earlier this year, the office closed the case, unresolved. In the meantime, other officials within the AOC did little, Davis says, to help her, and they retaliated against her for her efforts to bring the issue to light.

“They did an excellent job,” Temple said of the Office of Compliance staff. “The mediator was extraordinary. But I think the AOC did not give this real meaning. It trivialized [Davis’] victimization as a woman and as a victim of sexual harassment.”

“Management on the Hill, they stick together,” Davis told Roll Call of AOC officials. “Regardless of where you go, what you do, they cover it up. … They’re trying to keep everything hush, like, under the rug.”

Davis said that Thomas is no longer employed with the AOC: He was given a choice to either be fired or to resign, and he chose the latter.

“They found out it was the truth,” Davis said.

Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the AOC, said the agency “does not comment on personnel matters.”

Temple was hopeful that the suit would yield a settlement rather than a full trial that would, he said, be “grueling.”

“It’s in both parties’ best interest to settle,” he said. “If we have to litigate, the case is going to be a grueling and very revealing lawsuit.”

Davis’ suit comes after the Office of Compliance reported late last year that workplace complaints at the AOC exceeded comparable complaints in other legislative branch agencies.

Another sexual harassment suit against the AOC filed in August 2010 by Priscilla Rucker appears at a standstill, according to count records. She alleges that her supervisors retaliated against her because she filed a separate suit in May 2008 alleging that a co-worker had sexually harassed her.