"The Spanish community is up in arms about this," said one of the local Hispanic leaders who filled the plantiff's half of the federal courtroom here Friday. "If Aida loses this case, boy are we going to raise hell."
The Latinos had come to hear the closing arguments in Aida Berio's suit against the federal agency where she works - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Berio has accused the commission, which has the responsibility of preventing job discrimination, of discriminating against her in her EEOC job because she is Hispanic.
The case has become a cause celebre among Hispanics both in and out of the government, and has the potential of becoming a significant issue among Spanish-speaking professionals nationwide.
"We have always found a lot of job discrimination against us," said Berio, who also serves as the volunteer head of the D.C. Commission for the Development of the Latino Community. "In the past, people have not really done anything about it. They have just sort of faded away. This time we are going on record. I'm testing the system to see if it works for us."
Many Hispanics here have expressed the feeling that they are victims of double discrimination by both whites and blacks who have risen to power in the city and federal bureauracy over the past 15 years. It is an extremely sensitive issue in Washington's Spanish-speaking community, where many leaders feel that emphasis on the differences between blacks and Hispanics can only serve to weaken both groups in their quest for equal rights.
"But there is jealousy between them," said J. Gerald Hebert, an attorney in the Justice Department's civil rights division who is serving as Berio's lawyer on his own time. "I think blacks consider themselves a unique minority, which they are. They tend to feel that Hispanics, whatever discrimination they may encounter initially, will eventually be able to enter into the mainstream as other groups have done."
Hebert, who is white, said that this issue was not brought into the trial directly "because we want the court to focus on the case of Mrs. Berio." But her lawyers have gathered official EEOC statistics that they believe reflect the discriminatory policies in that agency.
Of 534 employes in EEOC's Washingtn headquarters as of August 1977, 328 were black and 26 were Hispanics (170 were listed as "other," meaning Cauasion, while 9 were Asian and one's ethnic origin was listed as "not available").
EEOC lawyers contend that such statistics are totally irrelevant to Berio's case and result from an inadequate number of qualified Hispanic applicants. They maintain that she has not been promoted from GS-12 to GS-13 simply because she is not qualified, and her duties did not warrant such a move.
"The top of Mrs. Berio's career ladder was a GS-12," said EEOC attorney William L. Harris Jr. He [WORD ILLEGIBLE] that work in the Educational Programs Division had become increasingly concerned with technical aspects of Title VH law under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Herto is good at work that is "nontechnical (and) does not call for in depth knowledge of the statute," Harris maintained, she was inadequate when it came to complex analysis.
Berio is suing the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The basis for her complaint is a complex chronology of event, which her lawyers argue, show the "disparate treatment" she has received because she is Hispanic.
Berio, who is of Puerto Rican descent and multilingual, was recruited from the State Department to work for EEOC in 1971.
In 1973 she began to perceive what she believed was discrimination by her supervisor, Richard Dickerson, who is black. She contends she was given inadequate information about her application for a promotion, was consistently rated below her colleagues in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and was also left off the agenda for a conference that all professionals in her division were supposed to attend.
She also maintains that when she complained 'about' this treatment, Dickerson retaliated by making a lower-ranking black employe "officer-in-charge" shove her.
An internal EEOC investigator in 1974, ruled that Berio was the victim of retaliation but not of discrimination. A subsequent Civil Service Commission inquiry ruled that with regard to her application for reclassification, she was also the object of discrimination based on her national origin.
She went to court because the only remedy offered her was another reclassification examination independent of Dickerson. This examination determined that she still was ineligible for promotion.
Hebert pointed out that it is the EEOC's own practice when dealing with other federal agenciesand private employers that the "minimum remedy" in such a case is immediatepromotion to the job[WORD ILLEGIBLE] or a comparable position and appropriate back pay.
Judge Thomas A. Flannery, who heard the closing arguments in the suit on Monday, said he would render his decision as soon as possible.