On October 17, 1986 two African-American Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq. against then Secretary of the Department of State, James Baker, in United States District Court in the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for injunctive relief and damages, alleging that the State Department discriminated against African-Americans who served as FSOs. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the State Department discriminated with respect to assignments, performance appraisals, promotions, tenure, and selection out and furthermore had retaliated against African-American FSOs for objecting to these unlawful employment practices. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 229 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
The plaintiffs filed their first motion to certify the lawsuit as a class action on January 15, 1987, prior to taking any discovery. The motion was denied by the Court (Judge Revercomb) on July 20, 1987. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 229 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
On April 28, 1988, the Court (Judge Revercomb) denied the plaintiff's motion to reconsider class certification, but granted Plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint thereby allowing 30 additional individuals to intervene in order to assert claims of discriminatory employment practices and retaliatory behavior against the Department. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 229 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
From 1988 to 1994, a lengthy and contentious discovery took place. The plaintiffs brought in a research firm to do statistical analysis to find significant evidence of discrimination in the FSO. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 229 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
On December 6, 1991, after the Congressional enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the plaintiffs moved to file a second amended complaint to demonstrate that their claims against the Department were based on a disparate impact as well as a disparate treatment theory of liability and to request a jury trial, compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, and expert fees, which were not available to Plaintiffs prior to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 229-230 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
After the complaint was filed, the Court (Judge Revercomb) set a deadline for a renewed motion of class certification. In the meantime, the Court suspended discovery and permitted the parties to pursue settlement negotiations. After deadlines were extended, and the talks flatlined, the plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint and soon after motioned for class certification. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 230 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
On June 15, 1994, the plaintiffs filed their motion for class certification. However, settlement negotiations under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Alan Kay, were ongoing, and the class certification hearing was scheduled and postponed several times. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 230 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
In February of 1995, the two sides came to an agreement in principle, and while various plaintiffs continued to oppose elements of the agreement, and negotiations continued. Ultimately the parties signed a consent decree on January 31, 1996. The Court granted preliminary approval on March 22, 1996. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 230 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
The consent decree provided an injunction, effective for four years, prohibiting the State Department from discriminating on the basis of race in promotions, awards, censuring, terminations, performance evaluations, selection out, post and duty assignments, conal assignments, or training. The injunction also barred the State Department from retaliating against any class member for participation in equal employment opportunity activities. The decree further provided for a senior level Council for Equality in the Workplace to monitor and advance equal employment opportunities in the Department. And also, the decree provided for revision and expansion of the State Department's Diversity Awareness training for FSOs and FSO supervisors. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 232 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
The agreement provided for the class to receive a total award of $3.8 million in satisfaction of all class claims for monetary relief. $125,000 was distributed to the 30 named Plaintiffs, including $40,000 to Walter J. Thomas, the lead plaintiff, and $85,000 among the 29 other named Plaintiffs. $2.9 million was distributed to class members who did not receive promotions or whose promotions were delayed. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 234 (D.C.D.C. 1996). And the settlement provided for $2.1 million in attorney's fees. Thomas v. Baker, 169 F.R.D. 235 (D.C.D.C. 1996).
Many members of the proposed class who were dissatisfied with the settlement sued the class counsel for malpractice in County Court in the District of Columbia.
On December 8, 1999, the District Court (Judge Sporkin) ruled against former members of the class who had brought malpractice lawsuits against class counsel in state court, upholding a previous order enjoining the clients from pursuing malpractice suits. Thomas v. Baker, 77 F.Supp.2d 114 (D.D.C. 1999).
The case was closed on June 20, 2001.Matthew Aibel - 04/07/2008