Talks fail in discrimination suit

The University failed to strike a deal with an employee that claims she was discriminated against because she is gay, paving the way for a spring trial.

Kami Groom, an information systems coordinator in GW’s Information Systems and Services department, said her supervisor, ISS Assistant Director Mark Harris, repeatedly harassed her after discovering her sexual orientation. As Harris’ employer, GW is responsible for his actions within the University’s environs.

Bruce Fein, Groom’s lawyer, said he was unable to discuss the nature of the settlement talks because both sides have agreed to confidentiality.

Matt Nehmer, acting assistant director of GW Media Relations, said Groom’s lawsuit is baseless, adding that GW has a “longstanding and leading record of promoting a diverse, tolerant and welcoming environment on campus for all.”

“The University regrets that (Groom’s) workplace dispute has become a formal court case, but since she has chosen that forum, that is where it must now be resolved,” Nehmer added. “The University believes that her lawsuit is without merit, and it intends to vigorously defend itself and its valued employees who have been accused in that case.”

Fein said a trial would be held sometime next year in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, with witness depositions beginning in September or early October.

Groom, who declined to comment, is asking for $4.5 million in damages.

ISS Executive Director Ronald Bonig and ISS Director Johnny Bret Jones were also named as defendants in the lawsuit, because as supervisors to Harris, they allegedly remained aloof to Groom’s complaints of harassment.

Jones declined to comment, and several telephone calls placed to Bonig and Harris were not returned.

Fein said Harris has been relocated within the department and is no longer Groom’s supervisor.

He said Groom, who continues to work in ISS, has not been adversely affected by the lawsuit.

“Both sides agreed to keep the lawsuit to the margins of her work,” he said.

“She’s being treated better than before,” he added.

Fein said GW could still choose to settle out of court to avoid a trial, but he would not disclose what a potential settlement would entail.

“The fact that the mediations failed doesn’t mean settlement talks can’t occur,” he said.

In the past, the University has settled discrimination lawsuits out of court.

In 1998, GW agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money to a former international communications professor who claimed she was denied tenure because of her gender.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.