(CN) - Despite some hesitation, a federal judge refused to dismiss discrimination claims from police officers who were allegedly harassed when they began a lesbian relationship.
Tonia Jones and Kenniss Weeks, both police officers with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, claimed
they were harassed and "blatantly retaliated against" after telling one of their supervisors that they were in a relationship.
The sergeants allegedly called them derogatory, stereotypical names such as "drama queen," "the butch one" and "the femme one," and "collectively harassed [them] about their work performance, leave and attendance, overtime requests, vehicle assignments, and work assignments."
They claimed male co-workers made overt sexual comments and solicitations.
When they filed complaints with their division's Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Branch, the police department allegedly retaliated by giving Jones a lower performance evaluation that made her ineligible for a promotion. Weeks was dubbed the "EEO queen" and given discriminatory assignments, according to their federal lawsuit.
The D.C. Office of Human Rights found probable cause after an investigation but nevertheless dismissed the women's complaint administratively.
Since dismissal must be for the office's own "administrative convenience" for the officers to pursue their case in court, the District of Columbia moved for judgment on the pleadings of the women's subsequent federal complaint.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer called it "a very close question" and advanced the case Monday, noting that the office "consistently" and without explanation "fails to cite the statutory language of the D.C. Human Rights Act when it dismisses a complaint administratively."
"This leaves it to judges to figure out later what the agency intended," Collyer added. "Such intrusion would be unnecessary and inappropriate if the agency followed its own statute."
Ultimately both parties were able to make strong arguments from half measures in the record, the court found.
"As explained below, and despite some discomfort, the court concludes that the D.C. Office of Human Rights dismissed plaintiffs' complaints for administrative convenience," Collyer wrote. "It, therefore, will deny the motion."
Here the plaintiffs had informed the office from the outset that they wished to pursue their case in federal court, where they could recover damages and attorneys' fees, but D.C. also told the agency that it had no objection to litigating the claims in court rather than administratively, the court found.
"The best that can be said is that DCOHR decided to not allocate its resources to a matter that both parties seemed to prefer litigating in federal court," Collyer wrote. "Such a dismissal was unrelated to the merits of plaintiffs' claims or the availability of agency resources to litigate plaintiffs' complaints administratively. ... This court will leave to another day, or, preferably, the D.C. Court of Appeals, to determine whether, having found probable cause, DCOHR can claim 'administrative convenience' to decline to proceed to a merits hearing merely because both parties prefer to move the litigation to a court."