This story has been updated.
DeKalb County, GA — The United States Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with DeKalb County that resolves its lawsuit alleging the county violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it retaliated against former administrative assistant Cemetra Brooks.
Under the settlement agreement, the county will pay Brooks $190,000 for lost wages and compensatory damages. The agreement also requires the county to develop, and submit to the Justice Department for approval, anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies and to provide the supervisors and managers in the facilities management department with training on those policies and on the types of workplace conduct that constitute unlawful employment practices under Title VII.
According to the settlement, the county extended Brooks’ probationary period and then terminated her employment during the extended period, because she made a sexual harassment complaint.
Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and religion and prohibits retaliation against employees for opposing employment practices that are discriminatory under Title VII, according to a press release for the Justice Department.
“Discrimination in the workplace is toxic,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said. “An employee who faces discrimination in her workplace should be able to freely exercise her rights under Title VII without fear of retaliation.”
Probationary employees are vulnerable to discrimination as they have fewer employment protections than employees who are permanent and are often reluctant to file a complaint since it could cost them their jobs, said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“This settlement agreement underscores that Title VII’s protections apply equally to probationary employees,” Clarke said. “The Civil Rights Division stands ready to vigorously enforce the law when employees who complain about sexual harassment are subject to retaliation.”
During her six-month probation, Brooks filed a sexual harassment complaint with DeKalb County. She alleged that her supervisor, the deputy director of the county’s facilities management department, subjected her to unwelcome sexual advances, comments and conduct, according to the Justice Department’s complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The claims were investigated and later substantiated by DeKalb County. The lawsuit also alleges that the director of the facilities management department contacted human resources, asking for information from the county’s still-active investigation of Brooks’ complaint that would help him fire Brooks while she remained on probation. This occurred one month after Brooks filed the complaint.
According to the lawsuit, the director, on advice of a high-level county official, instead extended Brooks’ probation by three months. However, the director fired Brooks near the end of her extended probation without giving her any reason.
The Atlanta District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated and attempted to resolve Brooks’ charge of discrimination before referring it to the Department of Justice as an enforcement action. Assistant U.S. Attorney Aileen Bell-Hughes, Civil Rights Enforcement Coordinator, handled this matter for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.
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