Library of Congress Faces Class-Action Suit

Posted October 13, 2010 at 6:15pm

Members of a nonprofit foundation designed to assist black employees at the Library of Congress have again filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming Library officials refused to recognize the organization and discriminated against its members.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Library has failed to undertake a Congressionally mandated annual review of its equal employment opportunity plan since 2004.

In declining to recognize the group and publish the review, the Library is denying members of the Howard R.L. Cook and Tommy Shaw Foundation for Black Employees of the Library of Congress Inc. the right to address alleged racial discrimination within the organization, the lawsuit argues.

The foundation’s members believe they are being retaliated against because of their involvement in a separate lawsuit brought in 2004, alleging discriminatory hiring, promotion and training; discipline; and harassment. That case has been in its discovery stages for more than a year.

In addition to compensation, the group is asking the court to force the Library to recognize the group and produce equal employment opportunity reports.

“There is no stated reason, they just have ignored the obligation,” said David Rose, the attorney representing the foundation. If members of the group “had an opportunity to meet with a relatively high-level Library official, there’s some chance at least this matter may have been addressed.”

But since the group is not recognized, Library officials won’t meet with its members, nor allow them to use Library space or official time to meet.

The foundation was established following the 1995 landmark Cook v. Billington class-action court ruling, which found that Library officials had discriminated against minority employees.

Other minority groups such as Hispanics and gays have official staff organizations.

But in a 2008 letter, Dennis Hanratty, the Library’s human resources director, said, “It would not be appropriate for the Library to sanction or officially recognize an organization that has as its main goals assisting individuals in filing and maintaining claims, suits and litigation against the Library,” according to papers filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Library also holds that disputes are better handled internally, negating the need for a foundation.

The group appealed the decision to Library Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance, but they all upheld the decision.

This is not the first time the group has sued for recognition. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. dismissed a similar suit in 2008 because group members failed to prove injury and did not file the complaint in a timely manner.

Though Kennedy is hearing the new case, too, Rose said, the complaint is timely and the injury argument is more compelling since the foundation members hired a lawyer. Library spokesman Matt Raymond said it would not be appropriate to comment on pending litigation.