• 27 Year Sexual Discrimination Case Against D.C. Goes Before 10th Judge
  • June 29, 2017
  • In 1990, Deborah Jean Bryant filed a sexual discrimination complaint against the District of Columbia that has been litigated for the past 27 years. Bryant, now 59, worked in a typing pool for the District's Department of Corrections, and accused her former supervisor of denying her a promotion because she rejected his sexual advances. In 1992, the now-defunct Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development ruled in her favor, but the matter was not so easily settled. What followed was a still unsettled dispute of the amount of money owed to Bryant, which will now include almost 30 years of interest. Bryant's case has been heard by nine judges and is scheduled to go before a tenth judge soon. Bryant's attorney, Robert Adler, who has represented her since the case was filed in 1990, believes her case is the oldest in the District, and perhaps in the country. According to the original complaint, Bryant began working as a secretary for John Lattimore, a senior prison administrator who liked socializing with his employees in 1987. Initially, Bryant said she enjoyed the outings with her boss and fellow co-workers, but the relationship with Lattimore soon became uncomfortable. In a sworn affidavit, Bryant claimed that Lattimore repeatedly asked her out, told her she had a "nice derrière" and remarked in front of another prison worker that she "could have whatever she wants if she does the right thing." She testified that Lattimore repeatedly told her he was "in love" and told her to sit in his lap "so that he could play Santa Claus." Bryant said she did not initially complain because of the pervasive sexism at the corrections department, which settled a class-action lawsuit in the late 1990s that alleged widespread sexual harassment of female employees. She also worried Lattimore would block her from better jobs in retaliation. City investigators would later find that in the fall of 1988, Bryant had been demoted to work as a typist in a cell block where she was responsible for helping inmates write up their complaints. In late 1989, she checked herself into the psychiatric ward at Mary Washington Hospital and was diagnosed with major depression. She was unable to return to work full-time for two years. In September 1992, District human rights director Margie A. Utley found that Bryant had been denied advancement because of sexual discrimination and ordered corrections officials to promote her and pay her back wages for what should have been a better job. However, the corrections department appealed the decision. Bryant and Adler fought the city over the merits of Utley's ruling for the next 11 years. An additional 9 years were spent in a dispute over whether Bryant was entitled to interest on her still-unpaid back wages. In 2012, a D.C. Court of Appeals panel found that Bryant was indeed entitled to the interest. The department wrote her a check for $100,480, which was $52,000 less than it previously said she was owed in back wages. Corrections officials said, after revisiting records, their initial assessment of unpaid wages was incorrect because it included pay for hours Bryant had not worked. Including interest, the total payment was $150,000, of which $50,000 went to Adler's law firm. The past five years have been spent trying to claim the additional $52,000 plus interest that they believe Bryant is owed, a third of which would go to pay Adler's fees which he estimates amount to $600,000 of work. The case is now pending before a D.C. administrative law judge.