CAO Hit With Discrimination Suit

Posted October 7, 2009 at 6:36pm

A former budget director for House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard recently filed a discrimination lawsuit against the office, alleging that she was fired because she is African-American.

LaTaunya Howard worked in the CAO’s office for six years, beginning in 2003 as the deputy budget director and working her way up to budget director. But she was reassigned to a senior adviser position earlier this year, and in April, she was fired for insubordination.

In her lawsuit, filed Sept. 15, Howard claims that CAO officials fired her after a series of events that she alleges were orchestrated to impede her work. As relief, she asks for reinstatement as budget director, back pay plus interest, compensatory damages and attorney fees.

“The truth … is that the insubordination charge simply constituted a pretext designed to conceal the true reason underlying Ms. Howard’s illegal termination; that is, the CAO illegally discharged Ms. Howard because of her race,— the lawsuit reads. “In fact, she accomplished all of the tasks that the CAO assigned to her, and any assertion to the contrary is pretextual.—

Howard’s lawsuit is the first filed against Beard since he took over as the CAO in 2007 and outlines in detail Howard’s movements during Beard’s reorganization of the office.

The CAO has not yet responded to the complaint, and CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura declined to comment on the case.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on personnel matters or pending legal matters,— he said Wednesday.

Stan Brand, a former House counsel and Democratic lawyer, is representing Howard in her case.

In June 2006 — before Beard became the CAO — Howard was promoted to budget officer, becoming the first African-American to hold that position, according to the lawsuit.

But she didn’t receive a raise in the subsequent months, and an internal investigation a year later “confirmed racial pay discrimination.— Howard received a promotion to the next pay grade and six months of back pay.

A few months later, another internal investigation — sparked by Howard’s complaints about Deputy Associate Administrator Kathy Perdue — resulted in a decision that Howard would no longer directly report to Perdue.

Throughout, according to the lawsuit, Howard received high performance reviews, with supervisors describing her as a “valuable asset— and “professionally aggressive.—

But in January 2009 — after some shuffling in the top positions and Beard’s reappointment as the CAO — Howard’s position was eliminated and she was reassigned as a senior adviser under new Deputy CAO Ali Qureshi. Norman Farley and Steen Hambric, two white co-workers, also became senior advisers.

In the lawsuit, Howard claims Farley and Hambric not only earned $22,000 more a year than she did but also had supervisory responsibilities, despite assurances that all three held the same position. Howard’s job description, meanwhile, stated that she “may have supervisory/managerial responsibilities.—

Howard’s lawsuit paints the next three months as an uphill battle, with uncooperative co-workers and an unresponsive Qureshi. Qureshi, she claims, repeatedly pushed aside her requests to meet about her co-workers’ behavior and declined to help her obtain the required computer system access that she needed to help a co-worker complete a certain assignment.

When the assignment — a “projection file— for a budget account no longer in her purview — wasn’t completed by the deadline, Howard was fired.

“This illegal action was taken despite the fact that the task had actually been assigned to two Caucasian, lesser qualified employees since Ms. Howard’s demotion and transfer out of the Budget Department in January 2009, that Ms. Howard made repeated attempts to provide assistance to the employees since February 13 but with no response or cooperation from them, and that she was performing her own assigned tasks as required by Mr. Qureshi,— the lawsuit reads. “None of the Caucasian employees who were directly assigned to this task, or who were responsible for supervising its completion received any disciplinary action.—