The D.C. attorney general has determined that three black lawyers in his office were not discriminated against by a supervisor who, they claimed, showed "a clear and unmistakable preference toward white attorneys," spoke to blacks in a disparaging tone and used racially derogatory language.
Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti said his determination that Kristin Henrikson, chief of the legal services section for the Child Support Services Division, did not discriminate was made after an internal office investigation was completed last month. He said Tarifah Coaxum, chairman of the internal Equal Employment Officers Committee, interviewed 20 employees and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of documents.
"I am confident that Ms. Coaxum's determination that there is no actionable claim of discrimination is an objective one," Spagnoletti said in a written statement. "Ms. Coaxum brings years of experience to her position as chair of the committee, after working for many years in the Civil Litigation Division of this office, and in the District's Office of Human Rights."
The three lawyers received letters dated Aug. 24 that said several of Henrikson's actions contained in their October complaints were not found to be "race-based." Two of the lawyers, Tia Clark and Eboni Govan, released copies of their letters to The Washington Post. The third lawyer has asked not to be identified.
In the letters, Coaxum said the lawyers' complaints were not supported by the findings of her investigation. Clark and Govan have accepted new positions in the attorney general's office.
Although the lawyers' individual complaints were said to be unfounded, Coaxum, the freedom of information officer for the attorney general's office, said she did find that on two occasions Henrikson had used the terms "sassy" and "babies' mamas" in ways the complainants said were racially derogatory.
"I find both terms can be considered race-based," Coaxum wrote in the letters. "However, Ms. Henrikson's use of each term on a single occasion cannot be considered severe or pervasive, as articulated in court decisions" interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
She also dismissed complaints that Henrikson spoke to black employees in a racially disparaging tone, saying "several Caucasian employees complained of the curt and terse manner in which Ms. Henrikson spoke to them," Coaxum wrote. "Therefore, I do not find Ms. Henrikson's conduct to be race-based."
Coaxum said she did not find evidence that white lawyers in the office are shown preferential treatment, as the black lawyers complained.
For example, she said that Henrikson "chastised" Clark and Govan for being late because they were both late 40 or more times between July and December 2004. Coaxum said that only one white lawyer's "lateness rivaled your lateness" and that he was also counseled. The complainants questioned the accuracy of those numbers.
Joseph Bradley, a union official who represents non-attorneys in the attorney general's office, said he was not surprised by the investigation's conclusion.
"I read the findings," Bradley said. "It was ridiculous."
Last month, Bradley asked the inspector general to investigate the internal probe in the attorney general's office. Bradley said Spagnoletti had interfered with the probe when he removed Angela Harvey, the former chairman of the office's internal equal employment committee, from her position before she completed her investigation. Spagnoletti said Harvey had asked to be removed.
Bradley said Coaxum's determinations proved only that Spagnoletti wanted someone in the EEOC position that "he could control."
"This is totally out of order," Bradley said. "He took [the position] from Angela and gave it to someone who would agree with him."
The attorney general's office, formerly the Office of the Corporation Counsel, represents the District government in all of its legal matters, including charges of discrimination filed against the agencies. The office is responsible for 90,000 open child support cases, representing children who receive child support payments through the court system.