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Former HHS Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Named In Discrimination Suit

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Debbie Ridgely, the former Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) has been named in a discrimination suit. The lawsuit, Holmes-Martin, v. Sebelius, Civil Action No. 07-2128, is set for trial December 5, 2011. Ridgely, the named responsible management official in the pending lawsuit, retired October 1, 2011. The former HHS OSDBU director announced her retirement plan in the Department's newsletter -- "HHS Pulse."

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Civil rights groups are disturbed to hear of the discrimination claim brought against Ridgely. While employed with HHS, Ridgely was responsible for ensuring that small businesses were treated fairly and had an opportunity to compete and be selected for a fair amount of the agency's contracting and subcontracting dollars.

The plaintiff in the case is Ms. Arthuretta Holmes-Martin, an African American female who had served as the HHS OSDBU Deputy Director before she was terminated from the Department. Ms. Holmes-Martin asserts that HHS discriminated against her on the basis of her race and retaliated against her for her involvement in protected EEO activity by transferring her deputy director duties to Clarence Randall (Caucasian male), awarding Randall the title of "Special Advisor," reassigning many of her projects, and terminating her employment. According to court records, one witness stated that the former HHS OSDBU Director (Ridgely) "caused minority employees to retire or [leave] early because she would not allow them to succeed in their jobs."   

In a Memorandum Opinion dated March 17, 2010, U.S. District Judge Richard Urbina found that the plaintiff offered some evidence that Ridgely held discriminatory views. Judge Urbina further stated that "a reasonable jury could infer that Ridgely transferred the plaintiff's Deputy Director duties to Randall [Caucasian] out of a discriminatory motive." (p. 17)

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Mr. Philip Taylor, President of the Coalition for Change, Inc. (C4C) wrote to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the Department's handling of Ms. Holmes-Martin's case. In the letter to the Obama-appointed Secretary dated November 15, 2011, Mr. Taylor states, "Our members were hopeful that the new administration's cabinet secretaries would be more pro-active in resolving these complaints and law suits that had been unnecessarily prolonged for years by agency and U.S. Justice Department attorneys. We are troubled that the Holmes-Martin case has been ongoing for more than five years." Taylor says the C4C considers discrimination and reprisal for protected activities to be forms of workplace bullying.

Ms. Terri L. Williams, Presiding Chair for the Alliance of Federal Workplace Accountability (The Alliance), also wrote to Secretary Sebelius. In the letter dated November 16, 2011, Ms. Williams wrote: "The business community, particularly those in the small, disadvantaged and women-owned businesses, is disappointed to hear of HHS's inability to promptly resolve discrimination claims. It reportedly took over two (2) years for HHS to investigate the former OSDBU Deputy Director's claims of racism, retaliation, and a hostile work environment which is a clear violation of the regulations."

The Alliance, which includes such groups as Black Leadership Round Table, Blacks In Government (Region XI), Civil Rights Defense Fund, National Whistleblowers Center, Network for Women's Equality, NO FEAR Coalition, The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C), and The USDA Coalition of Minority Employees, pledged that they will stand with Ms. Holmes-Martin when she takes her case to the U. S. District Court of the District of Columbia on December 5.

Ms. Holmes-Martin is represented by Attorney David H. Shapiro, and Richard L. Swick, of Swick & Shapiro, P.C., and Washington, DC.

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Tanya Ward Jordan is President and Founder of the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C). C4C is an proactive non-profit self-help organization comprised of former and present employees who have been injured or ill-treated due to workplace (more...)

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