Fired Gallery Worker Seeks to Depose Dozens on Hill

Posted June 9, 2004 at 6:31pm

The former Senate Radio and TV Gallery employee who is suing the Sergeant-at-Arms for racial discrimination has indicated in court documents that she would like to depose dozens of ex-coworkers, reporters and others — including Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) — to aid her case.

The list, which also includes many high-profile television reporters, most of the Sergeant-at-Arms office and former Senate interns, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as part of a three-year battle between Gloria Halcomb and lawyers for the Sergeant-at-Arms on how the case should proceed.

If any of the individuals listed refused to submit to a deposition, Halcomb would need the court to compel their testimony with a subpoena. In the case of the two Senators and possibly even the staffers, it’s likely the Senate Legal Counsel’s office would then get involved.

Last July, Halcomb failed to persuade Judge Reggie Walton to issue a restraining order preventing the Sergeant-at-Arms from executing her dismissal from the press gallery. She was fired in May 2003 for “misconduct” after 16 years of employment. In the suit, filed in 2001, Halcomb originally alleged that she was denied opportunities to advance professionally based on race and gender and later claimed that her termination was a direct response to the suit.

A status conference in the case was held Tuesday, at which time the judge indicated that discovery must be completed by the end of July. In March, attorneys for the Sergeant-at-Arms moved to compel discovery from Halcomb after numerous requests to obtain documents and mandatory initial disclosures. Halcomb has until July 2 to respond to the motion.

The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act gives legislative branch employees the protection of 11 civil rights, labor and anti-discrimination laws. Among other things, the law prohibits reprisals by an employing office against a covered employee for initiating proceedings under the CAA.

After counseling and mediation through the Office of Compliance, an employee can either take the case to federal district court or to binding arbitration if the issue is still unresolved. Halcomb opted for federal court but filed the suit before her case worked its way through the Office of Compliance. Instead of dismissing her case, the judge allowed her leave to file an amended complaint after she completed the administrative proceedings at the Office of Compliance.

That process ended in April, according to her attorney, Sam Taylor, who represented her during the Office of Compliance proceedings. Taylor indicated, however, that he could not comment about her case in district court, as she is representing herself in that matter. Multiple attempts over several months to reach Halcomb, both through Taylor and at her home, were unsuccessful.

It’s unclear from Halcomb’s initial disclosures why she wants to depose Byrd and Kennedy, although given other written statements it seems likely that she believes they witnessed interactions that would support her allegations. As for the others on the list, she indicates Senate human resources personnel can attest to complaints she raised during the course of her employments; current and former employees of the Senate Radio and TV Gallery can speak to “perpetrator’s interoffice behavior in the workplace”; current and former members of the executive committee of correspondents could testify to Janezich’s “desperate discipline” toward her; and current and former Sergeant-at-Arms employees can delineate Janezich’s “misbehavior.”

Halcomb is also seeking a slew of documents, including minutes of the executive committee’s board meetings, a memo from Janezich to the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office describing the relationship between the executive committee and gallery personnel, as well as her employment evaluations.

In March, Halcomb sought from the district court a temporary stay of proceedings due to her ill health. The Senate Employment Counsel’s office, which represents the Sergeant-at-Arms, opposed the motion on grounds that she gave no indication of her condition at the previous status conference (even though treatment for the diagnosed condition long preceded that meeting) and urged the court to expedite her case at that time, as well as the fact that Halcomb’s doctor indicated her period of fatigue and bed rest would end at the beginning of March. Additionally, Sergeant-at-Arms attorneys argued that Halcomb’s active litigation in another case against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority demonstrates that she is not disabled. Halcomb is suing WMATA, which oversees the Metrorail system, on grounds that she was falsely arrested and physically harmed after a transit police officer accused her of skipping the fare. That case has also been extended multiple times on Halcomb’s request.

“Neither Plaintiff’s medical documentation nor Plaintiff’s continued participation in her other litigations supports her request for a stay of discovery. Indeed, her actions belie her professed inability to continue with discovery in this case,” the employment counsel’s attorneys wrote. The judge granted a 90-day stay.

Lawyers for the Sergeant-at-Arms have maintained that Halcomb’s “employment with the SAA was terminated as a result of her continuing misconduct, including refusing to follow the legitimate instructions of her supervisor, making inappropriate remarks to her supervisor and insubordination.”

Included in an addendum to the brief filed by the Senate Employment Counsel is the termination memo to Halcomb from Senate Radio-TV Gallery Superintendent Larry Janezich dated May 21, 2003, in which he stated that he fired her for “continuing misconduct.”

In the memorandum, Janezich outlined that he instructed Halcomb to take grammar and time-management courses to “address your long-standing deficiencies in writing and organizational skills,” to which he said Halcomb gave an “insubordinate” response.

For her part, Halcomb has asserted in court documents that Janezich fired her in May because he assumed she “either led or participated in informing members of the Correspondent’s Board … about dysfunctional and unworkable conditions in the Gallery.”