A 23-year-old Guyanese housekeeper said yesterday that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, failed to pay her $18,663 in overtime over a three-year period and often subjected the housekeeper to humiliation and bursts of verbal outrage.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court here, the woman also contended that Norton had failed to make the required contributions to the housekeeper's unemployment compensation fund and did not give Taylor, a legal alien who worked for Norton since 1977, the forms she needed to pay income taxes.
Norton, whose agency is the nation's watchdog on employment discriminaton, said that she was "absolutely astonished" at the allegations, which Norton termed "totally false."
"Eleanor is a sitting duck for this kind of thing," an EEOC spokeswoman said yesterday. The spokeswoman said Norton believes the information in the lawsuit is "incorrect," and that Norton is confident that any differences with the housekeeper can be resolved.
The housekeeper, Margaret Taylor of R Street NW, cited a speech Norton gave in 1972 at a conference on household employes in which Norton said that more than a million people -- mostly women and blacks -- work in "other people's homes under age-old exploitive conditions, despite all the concern for their condition and rising demand for their services . . ."
"We might advise them to go on welfare instead, for many household workers would be no worse off financially if they did . . .," Norton said in a portion of the speech recounted in the lawsuit.
Pointing to that statement, Taylor contended that Norton and her husband Edward, a lawyer, ought to be "held to a higher standard than other individuals unfamiliar with the law. Edward Norton is a codefendant in the suit.
In addition to Taylor's demand for reimbursement for allegedly upaid wages, Taylor's lawyer, Patricia J. Barry contends in the lawsuit that Taylor is owed another $18,663 in damages because the Nortons "willfully and in bad faith" withheld the pay.
She also wants the Nortons to pay her legal fees and contribute whatever amount is determined proper to her unemployment compensation fund. The Nortons did make required Social Security payments on Taylor's behalf, according to court papers.
According to the lawsuit, Taylor's wekly take-home pay ranged from $96 to $132 a week. She also received room and board with the Norton's, who now live on Capitol Hill, valued $125 a month.
Taylor, who left her family home in Georgetown, Guyana, and came to the United States when she was 15, said in an interview yesterday that she began working for the family in 1977. Mrs. Norton was New York City's human rights commissioner at the time.
"I thought she was just an average black woman who needed some help," Taylor said during the interview. Taylor said that when she worked for Norton she thought of herself "as a maid."
According to the lawsuit, Taylor was told by Norton that her duties as the live-in housekeeper would include light housekeeping and fixing meals for the two Norton children. But when she began work, Taylor contends in the lawsuit, she was told she would have to clean the Nortons' entire nine-room house in Manhattan, care for the children all day and at times when the Nortons were traveling, do the family laundry and clean up after parties.
Later that year, when President Carter chose Norton to head the EEOC, Taylor joined the family in Washington, according to the lawsuit. Taylor lived with the family until October 1979 when she temporarily quit her job "because of continued difficulties and intolerable verbal abuse," the lawsuit said. She went back to work two months later at a higher salary.
"Ms. Norton was very difficult to work for; she often cursed at Ms. Taylor and humiliated her in front of other persons visiting the family home. For example, when Ms. Taylor had not arrived on time, Ms. Norton called her on the phone and said, "Bitch, why aren't you here?" the lawsuit said.
Taylor said in an interview that Norton once asked her if she knew anything about income taxes and said she would get her the necessary forms. Taylor said, however, that she never received them but also didn't press the matter.
"I don't push anything. I just leave everything to her . . . she knows everything . . . what do I know?" Taylor said during the interview.
In Washington, Taylor said she heard a lot of talk about income taxes but said her friends told her "your boss is supposed to take care of it."
Taylor, who said yesterday that she loves the Norton family -- especially their children -- permanently quit her job as their housekeeper last June. "I quit because the work was getting to me." said Taylor. She said she is about to start a new job as a nurse's aide.