Peggy S. Griffiths, lawyer who won bias suit against government, dies at 87

Peggy S. Griffiths, a lawyer who won a federal discrimination lawsuit in the 1970s against her employer, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and who later chaired the commission’s Appeals Review Board, died July 22 at the Avalon Homes assisted living facility in McLean. She was 87.

She had Alzheimer’s disease, her daughter Jacqueline D. Griffiths said.

(Family Photo) - Peggy S. Griffiths, a lawyer who won a federal discrimination lawsuit in the 1970s against her employer, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and who later chaired the commission’s Appeals Review Board, died July 22.

Mrs. Griffiths had worked in private practice, as a college instructor and at federal agencies before becoming a member of the Civil Service Commission’s Appeals Review Board in 1968. The appeals board was the highest authority to which federal employees could make claims of discrimination and other workplace grievances.

In 1974, Mrs. Griffiths — an African American woman — had her own grievance with the board when she was passed over for promotion to deputy chairman of the appeals board. A white man was given the job and later became chairman.

Mrs. Griffiths filed a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in employment on the grounds of gender or race.

“How can the administration of an equal employment opportunity program be entrusted to people who themselves have been found to practice racial and sex discrimination with regard to their own employees?” Roderic Boggs, Mrs. Griffiths’s attorney, told The Washington Post in 1976.

The Civil Service Commission’s director of equal employment opportunity ruled in 1976 that his own agency had discriminated against Mrs. Griffiths. In 1977, a federal judge ruled in her favor, awarding her an increase in pay grade and restoring lost earnings. The decision also prohibited any federal official from harassing or retaliating against Mrs. Griffiths.

As part of a related out-of-court settlement, the chairman of the appeals review board retired and Mrs. Griffiths was named chairman in his place — the first African American woman to hold the job.

Her attorney, Boggs, who was director of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights at the time, told The Post in 1977 that Mrs. Griffiths’s suit was “the most significant Title VII case we have been involved with.”

Peggy Sue Strauss was born April 23, 1925, in Roanoke and graduated from high school in Johnson City, Tenn. She was a 1946 cum laude graduate of Howard University with a dual major in economics and political science and was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

She graduated from Howard law school in 1949 and earned a master’s degree in economics from Catholic University in 1958. She was a specialist in labor law and in 1958 published a book about settling industrial disputes.

Mrs. Griffiths taught social sciences at Howard in the 1940s and ’50s, while simultaneously having a private law practice and raising a family that would grow to six children.

After leaving the Civil Service Commission in 1978 — it was later reorganized as the Office of Personnel Management — Mrs. Griffiths worked as a Capitol Hill aide to several Democratic Congress members. She retired in the early 1980s.

Mrs. Griffiths was a member of many legal organizations and honor societies and chaired the government lawyers section of the National Bar Association, an organization of black lawyers.

She was a resident of Northeast Washington and member of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the District. She served on the commission for Christian education of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Her husband of 25 years, Dr. Norman H.C. Griffiths, a dentist, died in 1976. Survivors include six children, Dr. Stephanie D. Griffiths-Borges of Chicago, Norman D. Griffiths of Wilmington, Del., Dr. Michael C. Griffiths of Wheaton, Dr. Arthur A. Griffiths and Peggy Manel Griffiths-Leslie, both of Atlanta, and Jacqueline D. Griffiths of Great Falls; and 14 grandchildren.