Labor & Employment

Suit against HUD is like 'a low-budget telenovela,' judge says, allowing lawyer's retaliation claims

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A government lawyer who says she was targeted by her superiors after complaining about sexist treatment will be allowed to pursue a claim of retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said Terri Roman may be allowed to pursue allegations that her supervisors engaged in a “relentless campaign to destroy” her career, Courthouse News Service reports. Roman worked in the general counsel’s office at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cooper’s March 1 opinion (PDF) deemed the case a “melodrama.” There were allegations by Roman’s supervisors that she had baked a nail in a cupcake served at an office party, though Roman was on leave at the time and not even present. There was a fake transfer order created as bait to catch Roman in suspected computer hacking; an inspector general’s investigation found no evidence of unauthorized computer access by Roman.

“Plotlines from a low-budget telenovela?” Cooper wrote. “Sadly not. All in a day’s work, it would seem, in the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Roman said the retaliation came after she and three colleagues accused a supervisor in an April 2007 meeting of giving preferential treatment to young, male attorneys. During the meeting, they said the supervisor asked Roman to perform “traditional female tasks” such as beautifying the office with plants; cooking for private parties; and organizing an office celebration.

Roman alleged that supervisors retaliated by passing her over for a position that she had already filled on an interim basis; giving her cases to junior, male lawyers; downgrading her job ratings; wrongly accusing her in the cupcake incident; wrongly accusing her of hacking into office computers after she discovered memos about her on office printers; and moving her to a new position in a remote office.

In the second case of alleged computer hacking, Roman found a memo proposing she be removed for failing to produce “reliable written work”; this time she taped copies of the proposal in two restrooms. The investigation that followed the second incident resulted in a review of server logs, which corroborated Roman’s account that she found the proposal on a printer.

Cooper allowed Roman to pursue a claim of a retaliatory work environment but tossed other discrimination and retaliation claims. “The court will not bring down the curtain down on her suit entirely,” he wrote.

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