By discriminating against a Hispanic employe, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has violated the same laws it was established to enforce, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Fiannery ruled her yesterday.
In what he called a "particularly strong case," Flannery found that Aida Berio, a Puerto Rican, denied prmotion because of her national origin and suffered retaliation by her supervisor after she began to complain of discrimination in 1973.
Hispanic leaders have described the case at typical of the problems they have faced over the years with government employment. While blacks have made substantial inroads in their fight against discrimination, these leaders feel, Hispanics are often forgotten.
"Essentially the situation is atrocious," said AL Perez of the Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund."The only way to move the bureaucracy is to do essentially what Mr. Berio did."
According to August 1977 statistics, of the 534 employes in EEOC's Washington headquarters, 328 were black, 26 were Hispanic, 170 were white, nine were Asian and one was listed as "not available."
Berio was recruited from the State Department at the GS-12 level in 1971. a former assistant to the EEOC commissioner testified in hearings on the case that the agency's policy in hiring Hispanics at the time amounted to mere "tokenism."
While she worked in the Educational Programs Division of the commission's Office for Voluntary Planning, Berio was consistently rated below her colleagues by her supervisor, Richard Dickerson. Flannery found yesterday that Dickerson gave her inadequate information about her application for promotion in 1973, and Berio was also left off the agenda for a conference that all professionals in her division were supposed to attend.
When she complained of this treatment, Flannery found, Dickerson retaliated by making a lower ranking employe "officer-in-charge" above her.
After exhausting internal and civil service remedies for her situation, Berio took the case to court because all she had been granted was a reexamination for promotion to GS-13. She did not receive the promotion, although Flannery found yesterday that her "duties and performance at the GS-12 level at least equaled those of her higher grade non-Hispanic counterparts."
The judge's ruling yesterday did not specify what remedial actions the EEOC will have to take, leaving that question open until both sides can submit proposals in light of the ruling.
Berio was represented by two Justice Department attorneys who took on the case without charge on their own time. They said yesterday that they would ask for her immediate promotion to at least the GS-13 level, an as yet unspecified amount of back pay and all benefits that would have accrued to her, possibly dating back as far as 1974.
A spokeswoman for the EEOC said she could not comment on the case because she had not yet seen the ruling.
Berio, who still works at the commission, in the public relations division, was clearly elated by the decision. "We waited a long time," she said, "but it was worth it."