- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

A federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Christian Coalition to stop retaliating against four black employees who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the organization in February.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said he rejected "out of hand" the coalition's claim that a 50 percent cut in the employees' hours over the past several months was unrelated to the lawsuit and not retaliatory, ruling that the workers had made a clear case that coalition leader Roberta Combs may have broken the law.

"The plaintiffs are likely to persuade the jury that there is a causal connection between the filing of their complaint and the adverse action. Accordingly, the court holds that the plaintiffs have established a prima-facie case of unlawful retaliation," Judge Urbina ruled in granting the preliminary injunction Friday.

Since they filed their lawsuit, the black employees told the court, they have been barred from working past 12:30 p.m. each day processing the conservative political group's mail and fund-raising contributions. They said most of their work was transferred to a private contractor, Campaign Mail and Data Inc. of Falls Church, and done by other coalition employees who worked overtime.

The judge said the workers, who earned between $6 and $8 an hour, might suffer "irreparable harm" from coalition efforts to curtail their hours and earnings. Reduced pay had already forced one single mother on the staff to apply for food stamps, which reduces her lifetime welfare eligibility, he said.

"If the court did not grant the plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief, the plaintiffs might well be forced to use some of their irreplaceable five-year lifetime limit. This is precisely the type of relief that cannot be remedied at the end of this litigation," the judge ruled.

Michael D. Rothberg, the coalition's attorney, issued a statement that the organization "strongly disagrees with the court's ruling" and intends to appeal the decision.

"As the undisputed evidence before the court demonstrated, the reduced work hours of the plaintiffs arose not because of retaliation but because of a substantial decline in the volume of mail for them to process," the coalition statement said.

The statement said the coalition "has uncovered a memorandum that directs each of the plaintiffs to 'tell other plaintiffs that going for counseling is a must for a larger settlement.' It is clear from this and other evidence … that this lawsuit has nothing to do with racial discrimination and everything to do with money and greed."

Jon S. Nicholas, attorney for the plaintiffs, said injunctions "are considered to be extraordinary remedies that are not lightly granted. The court gave greater weight to the plaintiffs' evidence. It's damaging for the Christian Coalition that they've chosen to fight on an issue that should have been resolved months ago."

The coalition made no immediate announcement to its staff about the judge's preliminary injunction. "I don't know anything about it," said Arllyn Gray, a data entry specialist who answered the coalition's telephone yesterday afternoon. She is not involved in the lawsuit.

Mrs. Combs did not return telephone calls.

Five of 10 black workers who filed the initial racial discrimination lawsuit against the coalition have since resigned and were not affected by the preliminary injunction.

Judge Urbina ordered all but one of the remaining black employees to be reinstated to standard work hours from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, with guaranteed minimum pay for four hours of work each weekday except legal holidays, as required by District of Columbia law.

The judge denied injunctive relief for one employee whom the coalition recently placed on administrative leave without pay after the employee had an unrelated verbal dispute with a restaurant cashier in the coalition's office building on Capitol Hill.

In the lawsuit, the black employees accused the coalition of having a segregated workplace in which black workers were barred from using the office's front door and an employee lunch room that white employees use.

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