The Metro Board yesterday decided to investigate employee complaints of harassment and discrimination after The Washington Times reported that a top manager was named in a racial- and religious-discrimination lawsuit.
“We are going to meet these challenges and complaints at another level. We admit there is a weakness,” board Chairman Decatur W. Trotter said yesterday.
The Times reported yesterday that a former Metro office administrator has claimed in a federal lawsuit that Assistant General Manager Panagiotis P. “Takis” Salpeas discriminated against her because she is black and a Jehovah’s Witness.
On Tuesday, The Times reported that Metro had agreed to pay more than $100,000 to settle a middle manager’s sexual-harassment complaint against Mr. Salpeas, who heads the transit system’s development office.
Mr. Trotter said he could not comment on whether Mr. Salpeas has been disciplined, saying that issue would have to resolved internally. He said he called the meeting after being told of the federal lawsuit by a reporter for The Times.
“The board wants to make it clear that discrimination and harassment at any time would not be tolerated,” said Mr. Trotter. “Some of these issues are being discussed at another level. One of these issues is being tried before the court.”
In the federal lawsuit, Betty J. Wallace, former office administrator for transit system development, accuses Mr. Panagiotis of passing her over for promotion and forcing her out of her job because he wanted to hire a “blue-eyed blond.”
Miss Wallace told The Times that top Metro officials had long ignored her complaints about Mr. Salpeas. “In the spring of 1999, I told an upper-level manager … that I believed Takis was racist and was attempting to force me out of his department. Management did nothing to help me.”
According to Metro sources, some board members were distressed that Miss Wallace had taken her complaints to Harold Bartlett, chief of staff to General Manager Richard A. White, and that nothing was done.
Mr. Bartlett also serves as the board’s secretary.
Mr. Salpeas and Mr. Bartlett declined comment. Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said the agency could not comment on whether any personnel actions have been taken.
Mr. Trotter said the board has been assured that proper procedures were followed in the lawsuit even though the board was not kept abreast of all the accusations against Mr. Salpeas.
“The board expressed full confidence in the Metro management team in the way they handled these allegations, some which we were not familiar with,” said Mr. Trotter, a Maryland board member and former state senator.
He said board members were briefed yesterday about Miss Wallace’s charges and decided they needed to look into complaints to curb out-of-court settlements and lawsuits. Board member Calvin Nophlin, who represents the District, will head a committee that will investigate harassment and discrimination complaints, Mr. Trotter said.
“[Employees] can go to any board member if they feel they have been discriminated against,” Mr. Trotter said. “The board has the responsibility to field those complaints and determine if there are any patterns.”
He said he believes Miss Wallace’s complaint could have been resolved by the board before she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the lawsuit. The EEOC determined the complaint has merit that Metro had discriminated against her.
The lawsuit, which seeks Miss Wallace’s reinstatement, back pay and compensatory damages, was filed in U.S. District Court on April 25, the same day Metro agreed to pay between $100,000 and $150,000 to settle a sexual-harassment claim against Mr. Salpeas.
Under the settlement, middle manager Kim Hazel, who accused Mr. Salpeas of trying to kiss and grope her several times, must resign by Jan. 1. Neither she nor Mr. Salpeas is allowed to discuss the deal with anyone.
Last year, Mr. Salpeas came under fire from the Metro board after The Times reported he had authorized the hiring of a consultant under a $100,000 contract that ballooned to more than $330,000 without the board’s knowledge.
Mr. Salpeas, who earns up to $170,100 a year, was brought in from the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco by Mr. White in September 1998. Upon his arrival at Metro, Mr. Salpeas authorized the hiring of part-time consultant William H. “Ray” Lytle under the contract, which grew unchecked for 14 months.
Mr. White ended the Lytle contract last year after The Times inquired about it.