A U.S. District Court jury found yesterday that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had engaged in a continuous and deliberate pattern of race discrimination against black office workers.
The jury of three men and three women acted in a class action lawsuit brought by four black professionals who contended, among other things, that they were denied promotions, given job assingments at improperly low pay grades and placed in jobs that were targeted to be abolished -- all in violation of their civil rights.
After about two hours of deliberation, the jury awarded a total of $22,000 in damages to the four men for the emotional injury they suffered as a result of the discrimination.
The jury also found a pattern of racial discrimination against office workers who are black, a finding that could eventually result in damage awards to those employes, according to attorney Robert A. W. Boraks, who represented all the employes in court. Of the 1,372 office workers employed by WMATA, most of them at its Washington headquaters, about 400 are black, Boraks said.
Judge Thomas A. Flannery had ruled earlier that the case could be certified as a class action lawsuit in behalf of all those black employes, who work in so -- called "white collar" nonunion jobs at WMATA. These include accounting and marketing workers, lawyers, charter transportation supervisors and coodinators as well as clerical workers, Boraks said in a telephone interview.
Those workers were represented in the lawsuit by Metrocare, an anti -- discrimination group that was founded in early 1978 by the four WMATA professionals who eventually brought their discrimination complaints to the federal court.
Lawyers for the transit authority said they would ask Flannery to set aside the jury verdict, contending that it was contrary to the evidence presented during the nine -- day trail. If Flannery turns them down, they said they will take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Boraks said yesterday that if Flannery allows the jury's decision to stand, the judge could then appoint a special court officer to determine which of the employes had individual claims against WMATA, possibly for back pay or reinstatement because of rac ial discrimination.
The jury made the following awards yesterdays: Charles Fizer, a former supervisor of WMATA's consumer assistance branch, $10,000 for his claim that he was denied a promotion and then forced out of his job; $8,000 to Alonzo McNair, a coordinator of WMATA charter operations, who contended he was deliberately placed in a job slated to be abolished as part of a reduction in force; $2,000 to Henry Armwood, an employe in WMATA's real estate office who contended he was denied a promotion and $2,000 to William Battle, a graphics specialst, who said his job was undergraded compared to similar jobs held by white employes.
The four men are founders and members of Metrocare, which was set up particularly for white-collar employes who felt they were victims of racial discrimination Boraks said. Boraks said that Metocare officials have consistently declined to disclose their total membership, apparently fearing possible retaliation.
During the trial, WMATA introduced evidence of a 1978 affirmative action plan and denied any allegations that it discriminated against its black office workers.
The lawsuit, originally filed in June 1978, contended that WMATA had engaged in a pattern of discrimination against blacks since it took over control of transportation here from various smaller organizations in 1973.
The lawsuit was brought under an 1866 civil rights law which prohibits discrimination against blacks in all matters related to contracts, including employment agreements. That law has been extended to cover contracts involving the federal government.
The class action lawsuit does not cover WMATA employes represented by unions, such as bus and subway operators, attorney Boraks said.