Discrimination lawsuits filed against Capitol architect's office

Two African-American employees in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol have sued their employer, alleging superiors and co-workers created a "racially hostile work environment" and denied them promotions because of race.

In separate lawsuits, Roy Holmes and Michael Graham allege violations of the Civil Rights Act and the Congressional Accountability Act. Holmes, a mechanic for the Architect since 1964, is seeking $300,000 in back pay, lost bonuses and other compensation. Graham, an electrician for 26 years, is seeking similar compensation. The Architect's spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.

Holmes alleges he was repeatedly denied promotions, raises and bonuses because he is black and was subjected to verbal and mental abuse. In 1989, for example, the complaint alleges, Holmes walked into one of the Architect's offices to find "a white sheet with eye-holes cut out of it draped over a chair in such a way that it looked like a Ku Klux Klansman." The effigy remained on display for two days after Holmes brought it to the attention of his boss, the suit alleges. Holmes also alleges he was periodically the target of racial slurs.

Graham alleges that in the early 1990s, co-workers hung a hangman's noose in their break room in the Rayburn House Office Building, where it remained until last year. "The white electricians joked about the noose in front of" Graham, the complaint said, and his former boss "went as far as humiliating another black employee by taking a picture of him under the noose while another man dressed as a Klansman stood next to him." Graham said the picture remained posted in the Rayburn office until 2001. Graham also alleges one of his recent bosses claimed to be a close relative of a KKK grand dragon.

Holmes' and Graham's lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Oct. 23 and Dec. 9, respectively. The Office of Employment Counsel, which is handling the cases for the Architect, must file a response in the Holmes case by Jan. 3.

Both men filed lawsuits after separate proceedings in the Office of Compliance. Both also filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints. The Chavers Law Firm is representing Holmes and Graham.