Faced with a five-day suspension after a long dispute with his bosses, a D.C. Labor Department official filed a formal complaint yesterday with the city's Office of Human Rights charging that he had been harassed and threatened with reprisals for doing his job.
The complaint was filed by John Dean, the Labor Department's equal opportunity officer and the man who is supposed to settle the kind of issue he has raised.
Dean charged that Thomas A. Wilkins, acting director of the department, improperly accused him of insubordination after he spoke up at a meeting involving another employe's dispute with the agency.
Wilkins angrily denied Dean's public statements about the dispute. "I have never seen such trash so devoid of facts," Wilkins said. "That's posturing, that's what it is."
Wilkins and the department's acting deputy director, Lorenzo M. White, produced documents -- including memorandums from Dean's immediate superior, James Pfiester -- that portrayed Dean as consistently insubordinate and irregular in his working hours.
Dean said the documents were prepared in an effort to discredit him.
The dispute erupted publicly at a critical time for the Labor Department, and exposed what some crities have described as a lack of internal direction and a nervous uncertainty among its officials about the future.
Once a federal agency, the D.C. Labor Department was created in its present form last June by a reorganiazation order issued by Mayor Walter E. Washington.
Wilkins, who had been the director of the prior agency, became the new department's acting director, and Washington never moved to fill the job on a permanent basis. Mayor-elect Marion Barry has said Wilkins will be replaced.
"I have (job) rights," Wilkins said yesterday. "It took me 21 years to get there, and I'll be damned if those rights are going down the drain."
Dean, who was Mayor Washington's campaign manager in 1974, joined the Labor Department's predecessor agency in 1975. He said controversies with Wilkins and other departmental officials began soon afterward.
Dean has contended that Wilkins hindered his efforts to investigate and resolve complaints of race and sex discrimination, and sought information on pending cases that should have beeen kept confidential. Denying it, Wilkins said he has supported Dean's efforts.
The series of episodes that led to Dean's five-day suspension, starting next Monday, began soon after the mayor reorganized the department.
The reorganization led to the assignment of a new, high-ranking employe, Florence Tucker, from another office to Dean's office. Dean and Pfiester, whose offices are two doors apart, traded numberous memorandums involving Tucker's assignment. After Dean resisted a direct instruction to prepare a job description for Tucker -- a point on which both basically agree -- Pfiester recommended the suspension.
As this dispute was going on, Dean accompanied Wilkins to a meeting on Sept. 25 in the Office of Human Rights that dealt with another employe's grievances. Wilkins said he instructed Dean to observe and not speak, but Dean at one point offered what he called some factual advice.
The next day, Wilkins wrote Dean charging him with "an act of insubordination" and adding that "such behavior shall not be tolerated." Dean shot back a four-page memo that accused Wilkins of being "in violation of District law" for threatening a reprisal to Dean for doing his job.
Dean noted that Wilkins signed the suspension order last Thursday, the same day the first news account was published about the dispute. White, Wilkins' deputy, insisted there was no connection, since that also was the day after George R. Harrod, the city's personnel director, had approved the suspension.