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CIA Will Settle Women Agents' Bias Lawsuit

March 30, 1995|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency, in a clear admission that it has discriminated systematically against its women secret agents for years, said Wednesday that it has agreed to settle a class-action suit filed by several hundred women clandestine officers.

The settlement requires the agency to provide $940,000 in back pay and bestow 25 retroactive promotions to victims of what lawyers for the women call a pervasive culture of sexual discrimination.

The class-action suit, originally filed in 1986, alleged that women officers of the Directorate of Oper ations, the agency's clandestine service, have been routinely denied promotions, overseas assignments and supervisory positions.

The settlement, which is to be filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., today does not require the CIA to admit past discrimination. But it does force the agency to make financial restitution to several hundred women, grant retroactive promotions and transfer back into operational positions 15 women who had been shuffled into administrative jobs.

And, significantly, the settlement provides for court monitoring of CIA personnel practices over the next four years to ensure that discriminatory practices end and that the agency does not retaliate against women who filed the complaint.

"This settlement marks the conclusion of a constructive dialogue . . . to ensure that we offer all of our employees the equal opportunity to succeed," Acting CIA Director William O. Studeman said in a statement.

He said that the agency had resolved to treat women and minorities fairly at all levels.

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The settlement follows by three months the CIA's agreement to pay one former woman spy more than $400,000 to resolve her complaint that male subordinates destroyed her career by making malicious accusations about her sexual behavior and drinking habits.

The officer, Janine Brookner, was at the time one of the highest-ranking women in the operations directorate, having been promoted to station chief in Jamaica before the charges arose.

Brookner charged that her case was symptomatic of a pervasive culture of machismo and abuse of women in the agency's spy corps. She has since resigned.

Lawyers for the women agents in the suit said that they had proved a broad pattern of discrimination against women both through statistical analysis of the positions held by women and by the personal testimony of several hundred officers of the operations directorate.

"We found a decades-old, old-boy network in which women officers encountered great obstacles in getting promotions and assignments that would enhance their careers and move them into senior management positions," said Joseph Sellers of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, one attorney representing the CIA women.

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Sellers said changes in personnel practices at the agency, monitored by a federal judge, would significantly reduce the mistreatment of women at the agency.

Sandi Lucas, one of the women represented in the case, said that the lawsuit was the only way to compel the agency to confront decades of male dominance and unfair treatment of women.

"It is absolutely absurd that an agency charged with reporting on the foreign policy of diverse cultures could not deal with diversity in its own case officer corps," Lucas said. "This was the only way to force it to change."

Lucas, who served in CIA stations in Mexico, Brazil and Zaire, said that during her 14-year career at the agency she had been physically threatened by one male superior and asked to join in skinny-dipping by another male boss.

Lucas, who retired in January, 1994, said that she did not know whether she would qualify for any back pay or a retroactive promotion, which would affect her retirement benefits.

"The issue for me is not money," she said. "I approach this from a different standpoint. I believe in the agency, I believe in the mission and I loved what I did. My motive was to force the agency into the 20th Century."

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Michele Fishburne of the Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson, another attorney representing the women officers, said that despite numerous internal agency studies documenting sex discrimination, top CIA officials have paid only lip service to correcting the problem.

Another of the women involved in the CIA suit said that some of her female peers at the agency have criticized the settlement as too easy on the top officials of the CIA. But she defended it as important symbolically as well as a preferable alternative to years of potentially fruitless litigation.

"Obviously you never get everything you want," this officer said, demanding anonymity because she remains an undercover agent. But she said that, besides the money and the promotions, she expects courts to enforce the changes in the personnel system.

"You won't have a bunch of guys sitting around mouthing a policy and then turning around and doing whatever they want," she said.

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