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$24M would end long-running claims of race bias against African-Americans at Secret Service

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Following 16 years of litigation, a lawsuit asserting claims of race discrimination against African-American Secret Service agents seeking promotions would finally settle for $24 million under a proposed settlement and consent decree not yet approved by the court. After three unsuccessful bids at class certification, a district court in the District of Columbia certified a Rule 23 class of 120 agents in February 2013. The D.C. Circuit denied the government’s request for interlocutory review of the decision in August 2014.

The suit was brought by current and former African-American special agents who bid for but did not receive GS-14 or GS-15 promotions (to supervisor positions) under the Merit Promotion Plan (MPP) from 1995 to 2005. They alleged both that the Secret Service engaged in a pattern or practice of racial discrimination in making promotions and that the MPP had a disparate impact upon African-American special agents seeking promotions. They brought claims under Title VII and Section 1981.

The $24 million settlement fund includes attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses. Under the agreement, no plaintiff or class member, including the named plaintiffs, would receive more than $300,000. The deal also includes extensive nonmonetary relief aimed at revising the selection process for promotions, presumably, to put in place procedures and practices that would eliminate any potential bias.

The agreement further provides that if, after the final date on which requests to opt out of the settlement must be received, 15 or more individuals who would otherwise be class members properly opt out of the proposed settlement, then the settlement proceeds to be paid by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be reduced by $2 million. However, if, after the final date on which requests to opt out of the settlement must be received, 30 or more individuals who would otherwise be class members properly opt out of the proposed deal, then DHS has the sole discretion to choose whether the settlement proceeds should be reduced by $3 million or whether the agreement should be cancelled and null and void in entirety.

According to the proposal, “the Secret Service has independently and proactively undertaken and implemented numerous modifications to its policies and practices concerning promotions to the GS-14 and GS-15 levels.”

Current Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh C. Johnson, quickly issued a statement: “Today the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service filed an agreement that will, when approved by the Court, settle a decades-old class action lawsuit alleging race discrimination by the Secret Service in its promotion process. I am pleased that we are able to finally put this chapter of Secret Service history behind us. Had the matter gone to trial, it would have required that we re-live things long past, just at a time when the Secret Service is on the mend. Under Joe Clancy’s leadership, the Secret Service has turned the corner, and today’s settlement is part of that. This settlement is also, simply, the right thing to do.”

The case, Moore v. Johnson, is Case 1:00-cv-00953-PLF-DAR.