The U.S. Court of Appeals here yesterday reversed a lower court ruling two years ago awarding a female former Justice Department employe $19,000 for her contention that she had been fired after refusing the alleged sexual advances of her supervisor.
The court ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey, who ruled two years ago that Diane R. Williams was entitled to the award as damages to compensate her for lost pay, had not followed proper procedures in reaching his decision.
The appellate court also gave Williams' supervisor, Harvey Brinson, an opportunity to renew his effort to intervene in the suit when it is returned to Richey for further action. Brinson had sought to join the suit as a defendant wth the Justice Department to defend his reputation.
According to the court's opinion, written by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Spotswood W. Robinson III, Williams was employed by the Community Relations Service of the Justice Department as a public information specialist. Beginning as a temporary employe, she was promoted to "career-conditional" status within three weeks and received favorable job ratings until, she asserted in court, she rebuffed Brinson's alleged sexual advances.
She charged Brinson then harassed her, made it difficult for her to work and ultimately fired her, the opinion noted. The Justice Department said her work was unsatisfactory and that she had a negative attitude.
Williams filed a complaint and her case was reviewed twice by the Justice Department - once before she filed suit in federal court and once after. Both times the department's final authority - the adjudications officer - ruled that she had not been the victim of sex discrimination. The second time, the adjudications officer overruled a department complaints examiner who found that she had been such a victim.
The department resisted any effort for testimony to be taken in the suit until after Richey ruled against it. At that point, the department cited a recent Supreme Court ruling and asked Richey to hear testimony, but he refused.
The appellate court indicated that Richey should have either returned the case to the Justice Department for a fuller explanation of why the complaints examiner's recommendation was not followed, or he should have conducted a hearing of his own. The appellate court sent the case back to Richey for a new trial on Williams' suit.