Catherine Bego, an official in Washington's drug treatment administration, has just won a major promotion and $40,000 in back pay and compensation for emotional damages from the city government in a settlement of what U.S. District Court Judge Joyce H. Green called "one of the most egregious cases of sex discrimination" to have come before the court.
What happened to Bego, however, is more than a case of sex discrimination. Her story reveals widespread civil service violations in a sensitive city agency, along with a shocking pattern of cronyism and politics. In accepting the settlement, Judge Green also issued a lengthy oral ruling on other issues that described in stark detail how Bego was passed over for promotions while jobs went to men less qualified, and in one case, with false credentials. This, according to Judge Green, is what happened:
Bego, a graduate of Howard University, had a master's degree in 1972 when she joined what is now known as the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration. In 1974, when she was a GS-12, she was "temporarily" assigned for two years to be supervised by a GS-11, who was temporarily assigned to a job for which he had not competed. While she languished in jobs with unknown promotional opportunity, reporting to someone in a lower grade, this man, who is not a doctor and had no college education, rose to the GS-14 position of acting chief of the drug and alcohol treatment service.
Judge Green found this to be one of a number of "blatant personnel violations" in the agency in which men were promoted without the required competition, or were detailed longer than regulations allow to higher-grade jobs.
In late 1979, Bego had been "temporarily" in charge of information and prevention programs for 14 months. The job was posted for competition. She applied and was placed on the "highly qualified" list. The job was given, however, to a less-experienced holdover from mayor Walter E. Washington's staff who did not compete for it. According to the judge's ruling, an array of impressive academic credentials he claimed to have turned out to be untrue.
When Bego got the word that she was not getting the job, she says she was shocked. "I was hurt. Really hurt." She filed complaints with administrative agencies that found in her favor, but the Department of Human Services refused to conciliate. Then she went to court, and according to the judge, reprisals started. The department notified Bego that it no longer would fully pay for a master's program she was in, while it continued to fully pay for others. Bego said she was moved to a hot, dark office with rat droppings, and taken out of it only after she called on the mayor's office. Then she got a RIF notice, which was later rescinded.
She says she experienced ostracism, was barred from meetings and made to feel useless. "To do that to an individual, it can be devastating." Bego, who is married and the mother of three, said her home life suffered. "You don't feel like going over homework, getting into family conversations, doing family things." She and her husband took out loans and used up savings to pay legal costs.
In the end, Judge Green found that while the agency knew it had a "major problem" in the underrepresentation of women in upper grades, it passed over Bego, a "female with vastly superior qualifications," and gave the job to "an unqualified male with . . . fraudulent qualifications, who had exercised cronyism and political favor."
"This was a lawsuit challenging a system in which a group of males acted with virtually unfettered discrimination in promotion, assignments and disciplinary actions," said Steve Leckar, Bego's attorney. "It was an old boy's network that had control of this agency."
The out-of-court settlement provided for the city to pay court costs and more than $25,000 in fees to Bego's attorneys. Judge Green also ruled that Bego should be promoted to deputy administrator of ADASA, a GS-14 job that is vacant, within 30 days.
The old boy network that fostered cronyism over competence has cost the taxpayers a small fortune. A dedicated public servant, with a history of outstanding ratings, has been illegally limited in her opportunities to serve. This year, a consultant evaluating ADASA concluded that it was "almost a textbook example of what can result from lack of leadership, character, and initiative within an arm of government that provides a vital service to the city."
Catherine Bego and her family have paid dearly for the way the agency has been run. So has the city of Washington.