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Judgment to Go to the Needy

Lawsuit: Northridge woman will give money won in discrimination case to youths in India.

October 06, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After collecting a $150,000 federal court settlement, Prabha Rao could have splurged for a new car or put a down payment on a new home.

But she had other ideas.

Last weekend, the 52-year-old former probation officer boarded a plane for India with plans to give the money she received in a racial discrimination lawsuit against Ventura County to organizations benefiting orphans.

Specifically, she intends to use the funds to educate girls in Calcutta, where Rao grew up and her family still lives. And she hopes to travel to the western state of Gujarat to funnel money to children abandoned during a bloody conflict between Hindus and Muslims earlier this year that left more than 1,000 dead.

"I feel very fortunate that I have an education," Rao said. "I'd like to share that with other children not as fortunate as me."

Rao, who lives in Northridge with her husband, said she sued the county not for money but to force an admission of wrongdoing after she was denied promotions--on the basis of race, she believes.

Rao worked for the probation agency for 19 years, handling adult and juvenile cases. She was elevated to a senior probation officer during her seventh year on the job and wanted to become a supervisor. But the goal eluded her.

In 1991, after a decade with the agency, Rao began to attend law school classes at night, in part, she said, to improve her chances at advancement. She passed the state bar exam in 1995.

In January 1997, Rao interviewed for a supervisory position. She had worked for the agency for 16 years at that point and had a master's degree in English literature, in addition to her law degree. She felt confident she was a strong candidate. But the job went to someone else.

She questioned whether race played a role in the decision and her supervisor denied any discrimination, she said.

But after other promotions passed her by, Rao said, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It was the first of two grievances she would bring against the probation agency. After a two-year investigation, the EEOC found that Rao was denied a promotion on the basis of her race and national origin.

But a promotion still didn't come. In November 2000 she retired, and a few months later she filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against her former employer.

In July of this year, Rao accepted the county's offer of $150,000, and U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter entered a judgment in her favor.

Oxnard attorney Philip Erickson, who represented the county, said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

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