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Gray files complaint over reduced D.C. Council committee assignment

Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), 80, has argued that his reduced council committee assignment amounts to discrimination based on his health

D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), seen at an event last month, has filed a complaint alleging discrimination by the council. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) has filed a complaint against the council alleging he was discriminated against this year when the legislature cited concerns about his health while moving to shrink his oversight responsibilities.

Gray’s complaint, filed jointly Thursday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the D.C. Office of Human Rights, comes more than two months after the council voted to formalize the new committee assignments proposed by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Arguably the most notable of Mendelson’s changes removed Gray, 80, as chair of the council’s Health Committee and reassigned him to a new committee focused on hospitals and health equity, with a smaller range of responsibilities. The council voted to approve the new assignments in January.

In his written complaint, Gray lists the “Council of the District of Columbia” as the employer who discriminated against him, based on his age, disability and medical status.

“The Council’s actions speak to an issue that extends far beyond myself,” Gray said in a statement Friday. “Our government and its officials cannot be allowed to run afoul of the Civil Rights Act or the D.C. Human Rights Act or discriminate against any person for any reason. I brought this complaint without reservation, because in doing so I hope not only to right a wrong, but to protect other individuals from similar acts of discrimination.”

Mendelson has repeatedly said Gray’s complaint is without merit. While explaining his committee proposals in late December, Mendelson told his council colleagues that the reassignment was intended to “accommodate [Gray’s] recovery” in the aftermath of the stroke he suffered in late 2021, as well as the torn Achilles’ tendon he had in August. But Gray, who had chaired the health committee since 2017, protested the plan — writing in a statement at the time that Mendelson’s proposal amounted to a “power grab” and was “a clear violation of the DC Human Rights Act.”

In late January, Gray’s office said he was still having trouble communicating verbally and was working with a speech therapist to recover from the stroke — but that this issue was not reflective of his cognitive abilities. While he has been cleared to work by his doctor, Gray’s office said the lawmaker would temporarily communicate through written statements; his spokesperson, Chuck Thies, said Friday that this was still largely the case.

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In a statement Friday, attorney Timothy Maloney, who is among the team of lawyers from the D.C.-area firm Joseph Greenwald & Laake representing Gray, said the council engaged in a clear “act of discrimination.”

“Instead of asking Gray if the Council could support his return to work, Mendelson chose to lead a scheme that demoted Gray and limited his legislative authority,” Maloney said. “Not only did Mendelson violate Council rules that recognize seniority, he violated Gray’s rights and, in doing so, discriminated against him.”

Mendelson pushed back against Gray’s claims when they first arose last year, telling The Washington Post that the decision to give Gray a lighter load as he recovers reflected “virtually unanimous sentiment” among the council’s other members. He later rejected Gray’s claims of a possible D.C. Human Rights Act violation, arguing that a lawmaker’s position within a political body like the council is not comparable to a traditional employer-employee relationship.

“I have seen the press release but not the complaint. I believe there is no basis to the allegations,” Mendelson said in a statement Friday. “The Council strongly supports the Civil Rights Act and the District’s Human Rights Act. I’m sorry Mr. Gray feels either of those laws have been violated.”

The EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, will have 180 days to investigate the matter and issue a report unless the complaint is dismissed.