Justice Department secures settlement against DeKalb County

Department of Justice officials announced July 3 that a settlement was reached with DeKalb County that resolves a lawsuit alleging the county violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it retaliated against former administrative assistant Cemetra Brooks.

According to a news release from the Department of Justice, the county violated the act “first by extending her probationary period and then by terminating her employment during the extended period, because she made a sexual harassment complaint.”

Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and religion and prohibits retaliation against employees for opposing employment practices that are discriminatory under Title VII, according to Department of Justice officials.

Under the settlement agreement, Department of Justice officials said 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. The agreement further requires the supervisors and managers in the county’s Facilities Management Department to be provided with training on those policies and on the types of workplace conduct that constitute unlawful employment practices under Title VII.  

According to the Justice Department’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Brooks filed a sexual harassment complaint with DeKalb County during her initial probation period. Brooks’ complaint alleges 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 Department of Justice officials.

Department of Justice officials said these claims were later investigated and substantiated by DeKalb County.

The lawsuit further alleges that the deputy director’s supervisor 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.

According to the lawsuit, the director extended Brooks’ probation by three months on advice of a high-level county official. However, the director fired Brooks without giving her any reason near the end of her extended probation, the news release states.

“Probationary employees are especially vulnerable to discrimination as they have fewer employment protections than permanent employees and are often reluctant to file a complaint since it could easily cost them their jobs,” said Justice Department Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. “This settlement agreement underscores that Title VII’s protections apply equally to probationary employees. The Civil Rights Division stands ready to vigorously enforce the law when employees who complain about sexual harassment are subject to retaliation.”

According to the news release, 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.


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