Three African American lawyers in the office of D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti have accused a supervisor of discrimination and retaliation.
The lawyers say that Kristin Henrikson, who became chief of the legal services section for the Child Support Services Division last July, has shown a "clear and unmistakable preference toward white attorneys," according to their attorney Richard Semsker. The lawyers make up almost one-fourth of the section's 13-member legal staff.
In charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they allege that they have been subjected to "disparate treatment and a hostile work environment based on their race," Semsker said.
Henrikson declined to comment. Spagnoletti declined to respond to the specific charges, saying in an e-mail that it would be "inappropriate" to discuss personnel matters.
"OAG [Office of the Attorney General] is committed to maintaining a highly professional, diverse workforce to ensure high-quality legal services to the District," Spagnoletti said. "All of our personnel and management decisions are based on lawful objectives, and I am confident the EEO process will bear this out."
The charges claim that Henrikson told other attorneys that some of their black colleagues have no legal skills and referred to two of them as "lazy." She has directed black attorneys to sign motions that they do not believe are legally supportable, while white attorneys are given the option not to sign, Semsker said.
White lawyers are allowed to arrive late and run errands without using leave, he said, while one of the African American lawyers who filed a charge, Eboni Govan, was told to submit a leave slip after she fainted at the courthouse and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
The lawyers say that in a training session, Henrikson referred in a derogatory fashion to African American mothers as "baby's mamas" and in a staff meeting mimicked some of the office's clients by using the phrase "Who my baby daddy?"
Ironically, the attorney general's office represents the District government in all of its legal matters, including charges of discrimination filed against agencies. The office is responsible for 90,000 open child support cases, representing children who receive their child support paid through the system.
Until last year, the attorney general's office, which has 240 lawyers and 250 support staff members, was known as the Office of the Corporation Counsel.
The lawyers filed charges of discrimination late last year with an internal committee that investigates Equal Employment Opportunity complaints in the attorney general's office. When the committee did not produce the investigation's findings within six months, the lawyers turned to the EEOC.
Govan, who has worked in the office since March 2002, said Henrikson was aware that she suffers from lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease, and fibromyalgia, which causes joint pain and fatigue. Still, Govan said, she was forced to work long hours and some days did not get lunch breaks. In May, she fainted while in court and was taken to the hospital. Henrikson told Govan to put in a leave slip for the two remaining hours she had left in the work day.
"She asked me what time did I get into the ambulance?" Govan recalled.
"I believe I have been discriminated and retaliated against because of my disability," Govan said. "I also believe that I have been discriminated against because of my race."
Although Govan has since been given a position that accommodates her health challenges, she is still pursuing the charges.
Tia Clark, another attorney, said she thinks her contract is being terminated after nearly four years because she filed the charges.
During her pregnancy last year, Clark said, Henrikson ignored her doctor's order for light duty and subjected her to "more strenuous working conditions," including longer hours.
Clark said that she also was forced to handle the domestic violence calendar alone after two white colleagues went out on extended leave. Her request for additional help was denied, although two white attorneys volunteered to take over the cases, she said.
Clark said that her white co-workers told her that they are allowed to arrive late and leave whenever necessary without taking leave. The African American attorneys are reprimanded, admonished and scrutinized and notations are made on the sign-in log if they arrive late, Semsker said.
Clark was told that her contract would not be renewed in September, although she has received evaluations of "meets expectations" in all her performance reviews. She was not given a reason. "I believe it is in retaliation for having filed a charge of discrimination," Clark said.
The third lawyer who filed discrimination charges against Henrikson did not want to be identified.