A federal judge has found that the D.C. government discriminated against a white employe of the Department of Human Services six years ago by promoting a less qualified black employe over him and then reassigning and demoting him after he complained to superiors.
In an opinion sharply critical of city officials, U.S. District Court Judge Harold H. Greene said the District government's treatment of Robert A. McCormick "was simple and plain racial discrimination."
"Civil service and District government regulations . . . were violated time and time again in McCormick's case," Greene wrote.
McCormick had been head of the department's office in charge of student loans for seven years when a vacancy in the supervisory job directly above him was filled by a black woman employe, Eloise Turner, a child development specialist with no experience in the loan unit, Greene wrote. Four months after Turner took over, according to Greene's opinion, she took away McCormick's supervisory duties.
"When McCormick protested being stripped of his supervisory duties by Turner's fiat, he was summarily transferred out of the field in which he had worked," Greene wrote, and during the last six years McCormick has been shifted from job to job, including one position in which for two years he was given no work to do.
"The only explanation for the series of decisions made hastily and in violation of applicable regulations is that the city officials making them were motivated by racial animus toward" McCormick, wrote Greene, who issued the decision Tuesday after hearing evidence in the case at a three-day trial in October.
Greene ordered that McCormick be promoted to the next highest civil service pay level -- GS-14, the same grade that Turner has -- and that the department give him a job that corresponds to his qualifications and that provides for advancement.
Greene also ordered that McCormick receive back pay and that the District pay his legal fees. The judge further ordered the District to pay $3,500 in punitive damages to McCormick under the city's human rights law.
Greene noted that the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which administers the human rights law and handles job discrimination complaints by city employes, previously had found evidence of racial discrimination against McCormick, but that the city had taken no action to correct McCormick's situation.
John Suda, deputy D.C. corporation counsel whose civil litigation division argued the city's case, declined to comment yesterday, saying that no decision has been made on whether to appeal the ruling.
"This is an unusual case," said Anita B. Shelton, director of the city's human rights office. She said that most job discrimation complaints filed with her agency are from black employes.
Kenneth M. Trombly, McCormick's lawyer, said yesterday that the decision "sends a message to the the D.C. government . . . that retalitory action and outright discrimination cannot be santioned."
Trombly said that McCormick's difficulties began under Walter Washington's administration, but continued into Mayor Marion Barry's administration.
McCormick ,56, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who later joined the District government, said yesterday, "I feel vindicated." He said he had received encouragement from other city employes, including black officials who secretly provided him with city records that helped his case.
In a similar case in 1979, Judge Greene found that another white employe in the department, an accountant in the office of controller, had been denied a promotion in 1975 because of his race and ordered the department to promote him and give him back pay.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that six white D.C. Fire Department officials were discriminated against when all were denied a promotion eight years ago that went instead to a black employe.