The Social Security Administration could have to pay millions of dollars in back pay to black male employees at its Baltimore headquarters following a ruling last month that it breached the terms of a 2002 class-action discrimination settlement.
In the ruling, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reaffirmed a 2011 decision that the agency had failed to comply with the settlement, which called for performance bonuses and quality step increases for the men.
The original suit, which was certified as a class action in 1998, claimed the black men were treated differently when it came to promotions, performance appraisals and performance awards and bonuses. In the 2002 settlement, the Social Security Administration agreed to pay about $6.4 million and ensure equal treatment in doling out performance bonuses and quality step increases in the future, according to the Dec. 18 decision by Carlton Hadden, director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations.
Although the agency paid out the money, a follow-up analysis in 2006 showed that the disparities continued, said Michael Kator, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. EEOC in its 2011 decision agreed that the Social Security Administration had failed to live up to the agreement and ordered it to pay retroactively all black men employed at SSA headquarters from April 2003 through September 2005 the average amount of bonuses and quality step increases given to the headquarters workforce as a whole during that period.
Although SSA attorneys asked the commission to reconsider, Hadden said the agency had not shown that the original decision was mistaken.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 past and present employees will likely be affected, said Kator, who projected that total damages awarded would ultimately add up to tens of millions of dollars.
In an email, SSA spokeswoman Kia Anderson said the agency disagreed with the ruling and would “defend its position” before the administrative judge who will decide the final amount. She declined further comment.
The judge has not yet scheduled an initial hearing, Kator said. He declined to predict how long it could take to settle the case for good.
“I’m sure the agency will have lots of arguments to make and they will do everything they can to mitigate this,” Kator said, “but the fact of the matter is they had an obligation under the settlement to fix the problem and they didn’t.”