Colton v. Clinton: Amended Complaint Alleges Retaliation

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has filed an amended complaint on October 22 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Department of State. The press release says that the amended complaint was filed on behalf of Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton, a 64-year-old Foreign Service Officer, and alleges that she was subjected to additional acts of retaliation and age discrimination by employees of the State Department. The amended complaint alleges that the State Department retaliated against Dr. Colton by denying her a recent promotion because she had sued the State Department for age discrimination and other acts of retaliation.

Excerpt from the press release:

“Dr. Colton received a promotion in each instance of eligibility during her Foreign Service career. As soon as she filed suit, however, she was passed over despite receiving numerous awards for superior performance. This is classic retaliation, and it should not be tolerated,” said attorney Susan Huhta of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, who represents Dr. Colton.

The amended complaint also raises other instances of age discrimination, alleging that the State Department forces older workers into retirement so it can hire them back at a fraction of the compensation they previously received and with no benefits under the When Actually Employed (WAE) program. The amended complaint even cites a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Department of State: Additional Steps Needed To Address Continuing Staffing And Experience Gaps At Hardship Posts,” which notes the State Department’s “overall staff shortage” and “difficulty in attracting officers to hardship posts.” The GAO’s report stated that in April 2009, the State Department had approximately 1,650 vacant Foreign Service positions, many of which were due to staff shortages involving experienced Foreign Service Officers like Dr. Colton.

“The State Department’s enforcement of the mandatory retirement age is an exercise in contradiction: Dr. Colton is too old to serve past 65 years, but the Department utilizes contractors, WAE retirees, civil servants and political appointees over age 65 to serve the same role that Dr. Colton cannot,” said Huhta. “The State Department said in the GAO report that it is having difficulty attracting experienced workers for hardship posts but denied Dr. Colton – an experienced officer – an extension to serve at a hardship post.”

Read the full text of press release here. The original complaint, filed September 18, 2009 is here.