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JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LAB ACCUSED OF RACIAL AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION; CASE HEADS TO TRIAL SEPTEMBER 24

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Ruled Plaintiff’s Termination was Inconsistent

BALTIMORE-A racial and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit against the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel heads to trial this month in Howard County Circuit Court following an investigation by a federal compliance office that faulted the lab’s April 2009 firing of the plaintiff, Desyree Dixon, of Baltimore.

In her court complaint, Ms. Dixon recited numerous incidents of racial and sexual orientation harassment and discrimination since she began working at APL in the fall of 2007. She maintained that her termination was an example of the retaliation against her for protesting how she was treated. Her complaint describes Ms. Dixon as a gay, African American female of Jamaican descent. She had worked as a recruiter in APL’s human resources department.

“We are optimistic that if this goes to court, Howard County jurors will say what happened to Ms. Dixon was wrong, even if it was done by one of Howard County’s largest employers,” said David A. Branch, the attorney representing Ms. Dixon. “APL is a large federal contractor, and its refusal to date to correct its rampant culture of discrimination and retaliation, despite multiple federal rulings, is inexplicable. If what happened to Ms. Dixon can go on at one of Maryland’s largest employers, it’s clear that we have lots of work to do to ensure that the civil rights of all workers are upheld regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation.”

According to the complaint, Ms. Dixon’s coworkers subjected her to relentless harassment, homophobic jokes and comments. For instance, the complaint recites a conversation during a meeting in early 2008. “…a team member discussed a job candidate who had an androgynous appearance. The team member remarked in front of the entire team that it was impossible to tell whether ‘it was a he or a she.’ Other team members laughed at the joke. Plaintiff asked the team member whether the job candidate was hired. The team member responded, ‘Of course not. If he or she can’t even figure out what they are how are they going to do the job.’ ”

The complaint noted that Ms. Dixon’s supervisor, Rebecca Casanova, who is white Hispanic, was present at this meeting, as well as on other occasions when inappropriate racial and sexual comments were made. Moreover, the complaint cited the response from Ms. Casanova after the supervisor learned that her new employee was gay.

“Ms. Casanova later told Plaintiff that Plaintiff should not tell people in the Space Department that she was gay, especially the managers, because they ‘are conservative’ and would not react positively to the information. Ms. Casanova later said, ‘This is great – I get to check five boxes for you: gay, black, female, Jamaican, and Catholic.”

At another time, the complaint said that Ms. Casanova told Ms. Dixon that she and her daughter had gone to see the play, Lion King. “Ms. Casanova stated to Plaintiff that Plaintiff reminded Ms. Casanova of the monkey in the Lion King because of his hair and the animated way he jumped around.”

Furthermore, the complaint noted that after talking to supervisors about the inappropriate behavior of her colleagues, Ms. Dixon was terminated in April 2009 when the lab contended that she did not follow proper policy with her timecards and mischarged 3.6 hours of time.

Under federal contracting laws, APL is subject to regulations applied by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Ms. Dixon asked OFCCP to investigate her wrongful termination. In May, OFCCP determined that APL applied its timecard policy inconsistently by failing to terminate “a non-minority male employee who was found guilty of timecard fraud on several occasions.” OFCCP concluded that APL’s termination of Ms. Dixon, a “positively performing employee” was under a timecard fraud policy that was inconsistently applied and “fails every reasonable test of a pattern and practice.”

Remarking on Ms. Dixon’s complaints, as well as others reviewed by OFCCP, Mr. Branch said, “This isn’t like the local Human Rights office, which often doesn’t have the resources to fully investigate cases and simply issues a right to sue letter. This is the federal government – the same federal government that gives APL hundreds of millions a year in federal contracts. It dedicated the resources to really examine every person’s claims and found in each of these cases that APL violated its federal contracts.”

The trial is scheduled to begin on September 24.

Contact:
David Branch
202-785-2805

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