An Arlington business with ties to the county government is charged with racial and sexual discrimination in a lawsuit filed Oct. 4 by federal attorneys.
Convention Stores Inc. — the corporation which owns and manages the Commuter Stores, a small chain aimed at assisting commuters with mass transit options and an array of related products — is being sued by the former manager of its Rosslyn branch, Jacqueline Lee.
The suit was filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and states that Lee, an African-American woman, was passed up for promotion twice during her tenure between Aug. 1998 and Oct. 2002. That promotion would have given her managerial oversight of all Commuter Stores in Arlington but, the suit alleges, it was granted to a less qualified applicant.
THE EEOC HAS YET to serve Convention Stores Inc. with a formal complaint and EEOC attorneys are reluctant to share evidence until the case reaches a judge in District Court.
"We can't go into specifics because we don't want to try this case in the media, but the evidence will show that Ms. Lee was more qualified than the persons promoted above her," said Stacey Caldwell, senior trial attorney for the EEOC. "We allege the decision was made on an unlawful basis."
Convention Stores Inc. has a contract with Arlington County to manage the Commuter Stores. A county representative declined to comment on the case.
The company negotiated with Lee and the EEOC in 2002 to reach an agreement compensating her for the alleged discrimination.
Convention Stores President Elaine Curtain said a resolution to the matter was postponed for two years because EEOC staff had lost documentation relevant to the case. She said that negotiations with Lee and the EEOC fell apart at the table.
"Years ago, during those negotiations, we offered her all kinds of options at my expense," she said. "After an 8-hour mediation session, she walked out and refused everything."
Lee could not be reached for comment.
RACIAL AND SEXUAL discrimination in the workplace is a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The suit demands Lee's back pay and an undetermined amount for compensatory and punitive damages. The EEOC is also calling for an injunction against Convention Stores that would order its employees to undergo a training program to prevent any future discrimination.
"It appears that the Convention Store used race and sex as the criteria for promoting someone into the management position at issue rather than qualifications and merit," said Gerald Kiel, the EEOC's attorney for the Arlington region. "It is disheartening that companies continue to use race and sex as a basis for denying deserving employees opportunities for advancement in the workplace."