Judge finds FAA managers participated in sex discrimination plot

An administrative judge has ruled that at least three Federal Aviation Administration managers participated in a sexual discrimination plot that included manipulating personnel records and lying under oath in order to artificially meet diversity goals.

The FAA unlawfully appointed a woman to replace James Vanderpool as division manager for the agency's Northwest Mountain Region office in Renton, Wash., said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Judge Zulema Hinojos-Fall, in a decision obtained by Government Executive. Vanderpool filed a complaint after being replaced by Susan Underwood, who was appointed without competition and given a higher salary, the judge found.

"One may infer from the evidence that the agency engaged in impermissible machinations to deprive [Vanderpool] of his division management position in order to elevate Ms. Underwood in title, pay and position in order to satisfy its diversity goal, an action which is clearly contrary to [the law] and which [Vanderpool] has established to have been discriminatorily based on [gender]," Hinojos-Fall wrote. The action violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the judge said.

According to the ruling, the discrimination occurred in December 2002 and involved Ross Hamory, former FAA deputy assistant administrator for security and hazardous materials; Maureen Coulter, human resources manager for Hamory's office; and Willie Gripper, Hamory's deputy.

Hamory since has retired from FAA; Gripper is now director of operations in the agency's office of security and hazardous materials; and Coulter is still the human resources manager.

An FAA spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter Thursday, saying only that the case "is still in litigation."

In a brief telephone interview, Vanderpool confirmed that Underwood is still division manager, but referred other questions to his lawyer, Lawrence Berger. Berger said discussions are under way with FAA to seek relief for Vanderpool. If an agreeable settlement is not reached, Vanderpool could return to the EEOC for relief, Berger added.

The judge's ruling outlines actions taken by Hamory, Gripper and Coulter.

Three weeks before Vanderpool was replaced, Gripper convened a meeting of division managers in which he mentioned the need for diversifying ranks in order to meet FAA diversity goals.

According to one witness, after the remarks Gripper and Hamory "joked amongst themselves about their diversity bonus."

The judge said Coulter directed an effort to manipulate personnel records and FAA's promotional policy in order to discriminate against Vanderpool and make a noncompetitive selection of Underwood as division manager.

The judge further said that Hamory, Coulter and Gripper were not credible witnesses during court proceedings.

The judge said Coulter's behavior was "reprehensible," "abhorrent," "dismissive," "disrespectful" and "unbefitting of an agency official, a human resource manager, and an employee of the federal government tasked with observing basic Title VII principles and general respect for colleagues."

Gripper, the judge said, "was evasive, refused to answer even the most direct yes-or-no questions, and was effectively impeached by [Vanderpool's] attorney on a number of material facts on which his oral testimony at the hearing contradicted the affidavit he had provided for the record of investigation."

Gripper was guilty of "clearly perjuring himself," the judge added, noting: "This is hardly conduct befitting a highly placed official of the FAA."

"It must be said that nothing about the agency's conduct in this matter reflects well on the management officials involved, particularly the discriminatory actions of Mr. Hamory, Mr. Gripper and Ms. Coulter," the judge added.

Additionally, the judge said three male division managers were actually removed without cause and replaced by three women in late 2002, following the meeting in which Gripper made his remarks about diversifying ranks. The ruling did not name any of the other men.

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