When Juanita Rose Griffin joined the staff of the Washington Convention Center in 1984, she hoped to climb a few rungs on the corporate ladder. Griffin started out on the center’s maintenance staff as an apprentice electrician, a position that required her to work alongside certified electricians and learn how the place was wired. It was a good fit for her. “I love making things work,” says Griffin. “If there’s a problem, I like fixing it. I like trouble-shooting.”
The job was as simple as that until 1987, says Griffin, when she was put under the watch of electrician supervisor Cleo Doyle. According to Griffin, Doyle was respectful, kind, and encouragingto all the men under his jurisdiction. He showed a different side to his female underlings, says Griffin. Griffin and a handful of her female colleagues, she says, were treated as lessers incapable of handling maintenance work. The slights from above, she claims, were both professional and personal. According to Griffin and a colleague, Doyle once announced in front of several co-workers that women should remain “at home, barefoot and pregnant.”
After getting fired by the convention center’s director of operations, Reba Evans, in 1992, Griffin sued the Washington Convention Center for sex discrimination. She alleges that she was fired on the basis of her gender, and not shoddy job performance, as convention center authorities claim. (Attorneys for the Washington Convention Center declined to comment on the case.)
In her suit, Griffin charged that Doyle’s bias against female electricians prejudiced her performance evaluations and deprived her of job training. Griffin also says that Doyle, as well as assistant supervisor William Flemming, created a hostile workplace for female employees in the electrical department. Griffin alleges that Flemming sexually harassed her both on and off the job. While walking to her car after work one afternoon in 1989, Griffin says Flemming “[asked] me when I was going to give him ‘some’…and I said, ‘I’m not going to give you anything.’”
Griffin also alleges that Doyle foisted unwanted advances on her. After Griffin kissed Flemming in 1988 as a happy-birthday gesture, Doyle demanded that she kiss him as well. A year earlier, he told her that she wouldn’t have to fend off other electricians’ advances if she were his wife.
Five years and one successful appeal later, the case is still winding its way through the judicial system. A retrial in federal court is expected to occur this fall. Griffin is asking for her old job back as well as nearly $240,000 in back pay.
Griffin filed her claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1993, and the case went to trial in U.S. District Court in April 1997. Convention center attorneys argued that even if the allegations in the EEOC claim were true, they amounted to sexual harassment, not sexual discrimination. Doyle may have made sexist remarks, they said, but he did not have any impact on her career. U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Attridge agreed. The judge’s ruling prevented the jury from hearing the testimony of two fellow employees, Keith Miller and Michael Lynch, who were prepared to corroborate Griffin’s allegations that Doyle treated female employees unfairly. In the end, the six-woman, two-man jury decided in the convention center’s favor.
But last May, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Attridge’s decision. The circuit court ruled that Doyle had influenced, if not orchestrated, Griffin’s dismissal. It reversed the lower court’s ruling that Doyle was not directly responsible for Griffin’s evaluation as an employee: “Doyle was Evans’ chief source of information regarding Griffin’s job performance, repeatedly urged Evans to terminate Griffin, was made responsible for training Griffin, helped develop the tests used to assess Griffin, was responsible for evaluating Griffin’s success on those tests, and was in contact with Evans at every significant step in the decisionmaking process.”
“For these reasons, we think that a reasonable jury that heard the evidence might have decided that the plaintiff was fired for sex, notwithstanding the evidence that she was terminated for incompetence,” the judges ruled. The three-man appellate court concluded that Doyle’s hostility toward Griffin deprived her of essential training and mentoring.
But Griffin’s reportedly shaky job performance complicates the case. Doyle testified that Griffin made many mistakes on the job and that Griffin once spent three days on the routine assignment of installing a second electrical outlet for one of the convention center’s attorneys.
In 1988, the convention center evaluated Griffin in an annual performance evaluation as “marginally satisfactory.” Doyle recommended that Griffin, along with two other employees with marginal performance ratingsBrenda Gill and Ricky Austinbe dismissed. Evans demurred, demanding instead that the three electricians be given six months of special training.
Griffin was trained for five and a half months, but in May 1991, she left the convention center on maternity leave. Returning in March 1992, Griffin was granted 30 days to shape up or ship out. Griffin showed “slight improvement” on the test, according to Doyle, earning a score at the high end of the marginal category. Though she scored higher than Austin, the convention center dismissed her, but not Austin, from the job.
Griffin’s attorneys believe that their client has a good case. “Doyle did not want women as electricians,” says Griffin attorney Shannon Salb. CP