D.C. officials have agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a sexual-discrimination complaint brought nearly three decades ago by a former prison secretary, putting an end to a case whose extraordinary delays may make it among the most protracted in the history of the nation's capital.
Deborah Jean Bryant, a Northern Virginia resident who worked in a typing pool for the D.C. Department of Corrections in the 1980s, had been fighting for 27 years to claim pay she said she was owed. She sometimes wondered aloud if she would die before the case was over.
This week she got an email from the attorney, Robert Adler, who has represented her throughout that time. Attached was the settlement agreement, with a note:
"At long last we are done! And we are both still quite alive."
Bryant said in an interview that the settlement payment — of which she should receive roughly $50,000 after Adler's fees and expenses are paid — would be a financial boon. But it would also have a profound emotional impact, she said, as she can now try to move on from the stress of her Dickensian legal conflict with the city and the humiliating circumstances that led to her complaint.
"I don't have to think about all that anymore," she said.
The Washington Post published a story about Bryant's case in May. The day the article appeared, Adler said, he got a call from a high-ranking lawyer in the D.C. Office of the Attorney General who wanted to settle the case.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said after reading The Post story, "we took a closer look at this case, and we are glad we have been able to reach a resolution that is fair to Ms. Bryant and to the District."
Adler shared a copy of the signed settlement agreement with The Post.
Bryant, a 59-year-old grandmother of five, worked at the old D.C. prison at the Lorton Reformatory north of the Occoquan River. (While her suit dragged on, the prison was decommissioned and eventually turned into luxury apartments.)
While there she said a senior prison administrator, John Lattimore, repeatedly made advances on her. Bryant said in a sworn affidavit that he asked her out, told her she had "a nice derrière" and said in front of another employee that "Deborah could have anything she wants if she does the right thing."
Bryant also testified that Lattimore repeatedly told her he was "in love" and said that she "should sit in his lap so that he could play Santa Claus," according to case records. She said after rebuffing him she was demoted.
Lattimore could not be reached for comment.
Two years after she filed her complaint, the director of the District's now-defunct Department of Human Rights and Minority Business ruled in Bryant's favor, finding that she had been denied advancement because of sexual discrimination and ordering corrections officials to promote her and pay her back wages.
But over the next 25 years, the District government fought the ruling, losing an appeal and disputing the exact amount Bryant was owed. The case has seen frequent, inexplicable delays and has been heard by 10 different judges.
In 2012, the corrections department wrote her a check for $100,480 — $52,000 less than it had previously calculated in back pay. Since then Bryant has been fighting to claim the remaining money, plus the substantial interest that has been racked up over decades.
Adler, who works in the District for the law firm Nossaman LLP, said he initially proposed a $98,000 settlement payment. After several more months and further negotiation, Bryant and the city agreed to $90,000.
"I don't wish this on anyone," Bryant said. "I don't want to see anyone else go through what I went through — the harassment, and what happened afterwards. It was like the District just didn't want to deal with it and they just didn't want to give me what I deserved."
Bryant, who now works as a night security guard, said she has no regrets about devoting nearly half her life to litigation against the city.
"I think it was well worth it, because I did not only fight for me," she said. "I fought for my daughters and whoever would come along later who would go through these same issues."