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DEA gender discrimination lawsuit won after 20 years: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about an important lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which was finally won after 20 years. Special Agent Ann Garcia filed a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against the agency alleging that men were routinely favored for coveted foreign work assignments.

As evidence, Garcia submitted that despite her excellent reviews and qualifications, her applications were denied 17 times. Sixteen of those assignments were given to male agents. Other female agents had similar difficulties.

Finally, Garcia filed an informal class-action complaint in 1992 and was joined by 25 other female agents. However, in an apparent attempt to get her to drop the complaint, her superiors finally gave her a position in Hong Kong.

But the lawsuit needed to continue. There was too much evidence of widespread discrimination. Through her own experiences and through conversations with other agents, she learned that supervisors were routinely attempting to convince female agents to withdraw candidacy for overseas assignments.

Female agents were subjected to pregnancy discrimination even when they were not pregnant. Several agents were told that if they wanted to get an overseas assignment they should "stop getting pregnant." Others were told that they should be home having babies.

Garcia said: "Whatever the women's situation was, they had an issue for you. One male agent said, 'The best female agent isn't equal to the worst male agent.'"

For these reasons, the lawsuit continued despite the fact that Garcia was eventually given overseas assignments. Despite the strength of the case, it was pending with the EEOC for two decades. Finally, late last month, a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

Because the case took so long to decide, determining damages could be tricky. Many agents have retired, including Ann Garcia. However, each plaintiff could receive a maximum of $300,000 in compensatory damages per the EEOC's policy.

Furthermore, experts agree that this lawsuit should send a message to all organizations, both private and governmental. One expert says: "The discriminatory practices detailed by the court are not uncommon. Companies would be wise to reflect on hiring or promotion practices that are driven in part by outdated gender assumptions."

Source: ABC News online, "Drug Enforcement Agency 'Repeatedly, Purposefully' Discriminated Against Women Agents," Ariane de Vogue, 26 May 2011

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