Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Lesbian settles suit with veterans agency


Marea Murray
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A lesbian who claimed she lost her job with the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center because of discrimination has settled her lawsuit with the agency.

Marea Murray, 56, of Oakland, a licensed clinical social worker, joined the medical center in December 2012 on a temporary appointment, which was terminated in August 2015.

Shaun May, a spokesman for Federal Practice Group, the Washington, D.C.-based law firm representing Murray, has said she "was passed over for permanent positions" in favor of people with less experience and who were straight. In her complaint filed in December 2015, Murray claims she was terminated as part of a "hostile work environment" based on her sex and as reprisal for her pointing to problems she was having. (Federal law doesn't specifically prohibit people from being fired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but the government's ban on people being fired because of their sex may be used instead.)

In a recent phone interview about the case, which settled in December, Federal Practice partner Heather White said, "The VA agreed to make a certain payment. They've now done that. In exchange, Marea agreed to withdraw her complaint."

In a January 7 email to the Bay Area Reporter with the subject line "Six figures!" Murray said, "It is finally over. Exhausted."

She said in a follow-up email, "In light of my experience, I find it deeply disturbing and disappointing that the longstanding and vicious mobbing culture" within the San Francisco VA Medical Center's social work service "has yet to be investigated or eradicated as it is fomented by 'leadership' and apparently enabled at all levels, including the Human Resource & Management Service ... . Staff and veterans will continue to suffer for it."

White said that while "We really felt that this was a pretty good outcome for all parties involved," Murray and her attorneys "hope that people who perhaps do not conform to stereotypical gender norms will get fair treatment at the VA going forward. ... When an agency has to write a check to an employee, hopefully it has a corrective effect."

As is typical in such settlements, there was no admission of wrongdoing.

"Everyone agrees to disagree and walk away," White said, adding that Murray is prohibited for five years from reapplying to the agency.

She declined to say how much money Murray's getting, but she said, "They covered her attorney's fees, which were not insignificant, and I would say that it was sizable, but well within the bounds that are permissible under the federal statutes."

Murray's looking for a new job. White said that "hopefully," the case "will not be a drag on her career going forward."

In copies of evaluations Murray provided to the B.A.R., a VA supervisor rated several areas of her work as "exceptional."

VA attorney Vanessa Lichtenberger declined to comment on the case.

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