Patrice Campbell, a Black staffer for Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, is suing Schneider’s office, alleging that her supervisor, Karyn Davidman, made lynching references directed at her, among other hostile work environment and retaliation allegations in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that Davidman created a hostile work environment aimed at Campbell because of her race and that the office did not properly discipline Davidman after being made aware of those actions.
On a March 3 phone call, Davidman, who is white, allegedly was relaying a story to Campbell about lanyards that secure face masks to protect against COVID-19. At one point, Davidman told Campbell, “Patrice — you are going to have to get a rope and put it around your neck!”
The complaint says Campbell was “taken aback by Davidman’s obvious reference to lynching” and told Davidman her words were inappropriate and inflammatory.
In addition to the hostile work environment allegation, Campbell also alleges that she was retaliated against for reporting Davidman’s behavior and subsequently was assigned a smaller work portfolio.
An emailed statement attributed only to Schneider’s office said the complaint is not a complete or accurate accounting of the facts.
“To be clear, the Office took prompt and appropriate corrective action to address Ms. Campbell’s initial complaint. However, the federal lawsuit filed today by Ms. Campbell does not provide a complete or accurate representation of the issues or her treatment by any office personnel,” the statement said. “There is another side to the story. The Office of Rep. Brad Schneider is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to his staff members without regard to race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, national origin, religion, disability, genetic information, or military status. Rep. Schneider respects the right of Congressional employees to pursue remedies created by the Congressional Accountability Act. The Office looks forward to responding to Plaintiff’s allegations in Federal Court at the appropriate time and is confident that it will be exonerated in due course once all the facts are known."
Campbell is a constituent services representative in Schneider’s Lincolnshire district office. Her direct supervisor, Davidman, serves as the casework and veterans affairs director.
On an all-staff Microsoft Teams video conference held the next day, March 4, Davidman told Campbell in an email to “put your face on camera please” so that Davidman and the staff could see Campbell’s reaction to what Davidman was about to say.
Davidman allegedly laughed hysterically as she repeated the same story she told Campbell the day prior, adding that she told Campbell she would have to “get a rope and put it around [her] neck.”
“Fully aware that she was targeting Plaintiff and making light of a horrific reality, Davidman even mentioned that her husband had warned her that her statement to Plaintiff was totally inappropriate,” the lawsuit states.
When the video conference ended, the lawsuit alleges, Davidman called Campbell to mock her further and said, “You should have seen your face when I told that story!”
Campbell responded that Davidman’s actions were unacceptable and that she had previously warned her about the offensive nature of the comments. Davidman ended the conversation by saying, “OK, whatever, I’ll talk to you later. Bye,” according to the lawsuit.
The office’s district director, Greg Claus, called Davidman to tell her she made a mockery of lynching. Davidman called Campbell to ask if she was offended and when Campbell said she was, according to the complaint, Davidman said the following and then hung up: “It looks like a rope to me, so I am going to call it a rope. You all can call it what you want.”
On a March 5 call, Casey O’Shea, Schneider’s chief of staff, and Claus, told Campbell they would take appropriate action, but Davidman was not disciplined for her conduct and instead had a week off using paid administrative leave, according to the complaint.
Days later, when Campbell asked O’Shea and Claus what would be done in response to Davidman’s actions, they told her Davidman would no longer supervise her.
They also planned to reduce Campbell’s caseload so her interactions with Davidman would be limited, a solution that Campbell objected to because she said it would have the effect of punishing her rather than Davidman.
When Campbell told O’Shea and Claus that she did not want the incident to adversely affect her work, O’Shea allegedly told Campbell to “pivot and get back to work.”
After reflecting on Davidman’s behavior, Campbell sent an email on March 13 to O’Shea and Claus in which she raised additional concerns about the way Davidman treats people of color in the office and outside of it.
Though O’Shea and Claus indicated that they would conduct an investigation into those broader complaints, no investigation has been completed and no action has been taken against Davidman, the lawsuit says.
“I cannot imagine what would make one human being treat another human being in this way,” Les Alderman, Campbell’s attorney, said in a statement. “The refusal to treat Ms. Campbell with decency and respect illustrates so many problems that we have as a society. It also shows that discrimination exists in all quarters. No political party or geographic region has a monopoly on bigotry.”
On July 14, Campbell filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, a step that is required under the Congressional Accountability Act in order to file a civil complaint. The case is assigned to Judge Dabney L. Friedrich.