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Department of Justice Announces Settlement Secured Against Dekalb County After Officials Terminated a Sexual Harassment Complainant

The Department of Justice announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with DeKalb County, Georgia, that will resolve its lawsuit alleging the county violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it retaliated against former administrative assistant Cemetra Brooks, 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 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.

“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 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. The Civil Rights Division stands ready to vigorously enforce the law when employees who complain about sexual harassment are subject to retaliation.”

“Discrimination in the workplace is toxic,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan of the Northern District of Georgia. “An employee who faces discrimination in her workplace should be able to freely exercise her rights under Title VII without fear of retaliation.”

According to the Justice Department’s complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, during her initial six-month probation, Brooks filed a sexual harassment complaint with DeKalb County alleging her supervisor, the deputy director of the county’s Facilities Management Department, subjected her to unwelcome sexual advances, comments and conduct. these claims were later investigated and substantiated by the county. The United States’ lawsuit further alleges that, just one month after Brooks complained, the deputy director’s supervisor, the director, 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, on advice of a high-level county official, the director extended Brooks’ probation by three months instead. However, near the end of her extended probation, the director fired Brooks without giving her any reason.

Under the settlement agreement, submitted for court entry and approval, 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 its Facilities Management Department with training on those policies and on the types of workplace conduct that constitute unlawful employment practices under Title VII.

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. More information about the EEOC’s jurisdiction is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

The full and fair enforcement of Title VII is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Employment Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division and the jurisdiction of the Employment Litigation Section is available on its websites at www.justice.gov/crt/ and www.justice.gov/crt/employment-litigation-section.

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