Employee sues SBA for discrimination, retaliation

Friday - 3/11/2011, 5:32pm EST

Vincent Melehy, Karla Saunders' lawyer

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

An employee of the Small Business Administration has filed suit in federal court against the agency alleging discrimination and retaliation.

Karla Saunders, the chief of training and benefits division at SBA, alleges the agency violated parts of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and punished her despite her claim of whistleblower protections, said Vincent Melehy, Saunders' lawyer.

In February, Federal News Radio first reported Saunders and three other SBA employees' allegations in an exclusive series, "Discouraged and Disrespected at SBA".

Saunders claims SBA removed her from her chief of training role and put her in fake positions because she testified on behalf of another employee against agency management. She said she asked for help from current and former SBA administrators, filed complaints with the Office of Special Counsel, the agency inspector general and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. OSC determined the agency was involved in prohibited personnel practices, but Saunders said when SBA returned her to her former position, they continued to retaliate against her by taking away her budget and staff.

"While SBA entered into an oral agreement with OSC to put Karla back into her original job, they have not backed it in good faith," Melehy said. "It's the same position in name and in the same unit, but it's not the same position. It's an inferior position."

Saunders said she has no other choice but to take SBA to federal court.

SBA spokesman Jonathan Swain said in an e-mail statement, "It's the agency's policy to not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters."

In the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, Saunders is seeking compensatory and economic damages as well as lawyer's fees and court costs from SBA.

Melehy said he expects the case to take up to five years to be determined. The Justice Department will take the lead on this case and he expects the government to ask for the case to be dismissed at least twice.

"The government has 60 days to file an answer and they likely will file a motion to dismiss some or part of it," he said. "Once we get passed if the judge doesn't dismiss the case, then we start the discovery process, take depositions and there is a lot to take. That could take 6 to 12 months. Then I expect the government to ask the court to throw out all or part of the case, and if the judge doesn't, the case will go to a jury."

Melehy said many cases settle before going to trial.

SBA and Saunders had been negotiating a settlement, but Melehy said they couldn't reach an agreement.

"I'd rather not get into that at this point because I don't think it's appropriate to comment on settlement discussions," he said.

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