Published Online: November 26, 1997

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A reputation's value

In her nine days as historian of the House of Representatives, Christina Jeffrey didn't even unpack her boxes. But her short tenure has kept her lawyers busy for two years.

Ms. Jeffrey sued Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., seeking $16.7 million for wrongful dismissal after he fired her in 1995 for comments she made almost 10 years earlier in reviewing a grant application for the Department of Education.

Now, she's taking the department itself to court for freely distributing those comments to the media, which her lawyer says violated department rules that such remarks be confidential.

"This was an effort to destroy my reputation," said Ms. Jeffrey, who has returned to the faculty of Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., where she is now an associate professor.

As of late last week, the Education Department had not been served court papers on Ms. Jeffrey's suit, said Julie Green, the press secretary for Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

The speaker appointed Ms. Jeffrey to serve as the House historian in 1995, but fired her after a flurry of news stories recounted her comments in the evaluation of a 1986 grant application for a history curriculum on the Holocaust. ("House Historian Ousted Over Remarks as E.D. Reviewer," Jan. 18, 1995.)

Christina Jeffrey

"The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view, and it is not presented," she wrote in 1986. "Nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan."

The comments were meant to be "sarcastic," said Robert F. Croskery, Ms. Jeffrey's lawyer. "That remark was taken on its own from the report, and Christina Jeffrey was branded as a Nazi."

Democrats publicized the statement. To avoid further controversy, Mr. Gingrich fired the historian on Jan. 10, 1995. Ms. Jeffrey's lawsuit against the speaker is still in court.

Her suit against the Education Department was filed in the federal district court in Cincinnati, Mr. Croskery's home base, on Nov. 14. She is seeking unspecified damages: "I've got some real, genuine costs, but then, what is the cost of somebody's reputation?" she asked in an interview.

--DAVID J. HOFF federal@epe.org

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