Federal File: The litigation route

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Opening another chapter in a simmering intradepartmental dispute, an employee of the Dallas branch of the Education Department's office for civil rights has filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and other department officials. The suit alleges that they ignored the worker's equal-employment-opportunity complaint and violated her civil rights by returning Taylor August, the director of the Dallas office, to his post after a stint in Washington.

The suit by Veronica L. Davis, a staff attorney in the Dallas office, seeks $8 million in back pay and damages, including $5 million in punitive damages and $2 million for pain and suffering.

Ms. Davis maintains in the suit that she was "subjected to sexually disparaging remarks and sexual harassment'' by Mr. August between May 1991 and November 1991. At that time, the suit alleges, "August specifically discussed plaintiff's promotion with her, seeking sexual favors in order to insure the receipt of her promotion.''

The suit further states that Ms. Davis sought "psychological services'' after the alleged harassment and took a three-month leave of absence. Upon her return, Ms. Davis alleges, Mr. August and her immediate supervisor, Joan Sessoms Ford, the chief civil-rights lawyer in the Dallas office, subjected her to "retaliatory and discriminatory treatment.''

Ms. Davis, who joined the O.C.R. in February 1990, filed individual and class-action equal-employment-opportunity complaints in January, according to the suit. Ms. Davis, who is black, alleges that Ms. Ford, who according to the suit is a light-skinned black, discriminated against black female lawyers.

A department spokeswoman said: "We don't comment on pending litigation.'' Mr. August, through a spokesman, declined comment; Ms. Ford also declined to discuss the suit.

Mr. August was in Washington between June 1993 and early May for what department officials call a routine tour, though Dallas employees say they were promised he would not return. An outside report has criticized his management of the regional office, and workers there have been protesting the decision to return him to Dallas. (See Education Week, May 4, 1994.)

Three Democratic members of Congress from the Dallas area--Reps. Martin Frost, John Bryant, and Eddie Bernice Johnson--have written to Mr. Riley, saying they are "deeply opposed to Mr. August's return to Dallas.''--MARK PITSCH

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