Ex-employee alleges discrimination in lawsuit

by Emily Cahn

A former employee has filed a lawsuit against GW claiming she was unlawfully terminated from her employment with the University, and is charging a high-level administrator with racial discrimination, according U.S. District Court documents.

The lawsuit, filed by 37-year-old Audrey Johnson March 31, claims the University unlawfully terminated Johnson's employment on the basis of her race and because she complained of racial discrimination. Johnson, who is black, says the alleged discrimination has caused her to suffer "emotional distress, anxiety, stress, embarrassment, humiliation, pain, and suffering, for which she has sought medical treatment," according to the lawsuit.

In the complaint, Johnson alleges that she and another black supervisor were "targeted" by Senior Associate Vice President for Administration Ed Schonfeld because of their race, and suffered actions to "harass and intimidate" them. Both were stripped of their titles and authority, the complaint states.

Johnson, who is seeking an undisclosed settlement, worked at the University from December 1999 until March 2008 in the Executive Vice President and Treasurer's office, the complaint states. She started as a senior analyst and was promoted to a director of Planning and Assessments, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that racial discrimination began when Schonfeld began overseeing Johnson's office in January of 2007. Schonfeld allegedly reorganized the department in which Johnson worked beginning in September 2007, and had directed her subordinates to stop reporting to Johnson, depriving her of support staff, according to court documents.

According to the complaint, Schonfeld "consistently refused to meet" with Johnson to talk about the reorganization of the department, while at the same time held regular meetings with other members of the department from which Johnson was excluded. Johnson was eventually demoted and moved to a different department, and after filing a complaint with GW's Equal Employment Opportunity Office, her employment was terminated, according to court documents.

Schonfeld, who is the only individual named as a defendant in the filed lawsuit, did not return request for comment and University spokeswoman Candace Smith declined to comment on the allegations, only saying Friday afternoon that the school had not yet been served with a lawsuit.

"In general, it is our policy not to comment on litigation," Smith said in an e-mail. "What I can say is that we have not been served with a lawsuit."

Harris Butler, Johnson's lawyer, confirmed that the University has not been formally served with the lawsuit, but said the University is aware of Johnson's complaints.

"I will say we have attempted to talk to the University, they know about the general complaint, they just don't know that the lawsuit has been filed," Butler said. "Everything that's in the lawsuit, they know about."

Butler said he and Johnson hope the issue can be resolved without having to use the court system, which can be an expensive and lengthy process.

"The parties owe it to themselves and everybody to take the shortest try and work things out without the more expensive route of the courts which are always there," Butler said, adding that he represents two other clients with similar racial discrimination complaints as Johnson's against the University and said he knows of other clients being represented by different law firms.

"I don't know what the total number of people is who expressed complaints, but I've got to believe it's at least six or seven that they know of who have actually gone to the University to say, 'We believe that race has been a negative factor in employment decisions,' " Butler said.

The Hatchet previously reported that University employee Erika Gibson had filed an EEO complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights. In February, Gibson declined to discuss the complaint.

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