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Ten years out, court dismisses case

Lawsuit, what lawsuit?

If Brenda Altman ever wondered what happened to the employment discrimination suit she filed in federal district court back in 2001, she apparently didn’t do anything about it. A former civilian audit assistant for a U.S. Army facility in Winchester, she sued for age and sex discrimination in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In December 2003, that court ordered that venue be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

The D.C. court lost track of the record and did not send the files to the federal court in Harrisonburg until 2011. The defendant promptly moved to dismiss for failure to prosecute. Altman admitted she never attempted to contact the D.C. court to determine the status of her case. After a couple of years, she thought her case was over and destroyed most of her records, she told U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski.

But given her pro se status, and her attention to the case after its transfer, Urbanski said he could not dismiss the case just because the Army claimed prejudice from the delay. Fortunately for the defendant, there were plenty of other reasons to dismiss the case, including a failure to exhaust administrative remedies and the fact that Altman had settled one of her claims for $59,000.

Then there was the court’s take on what was really going on in the case. Employment lawyers, this will sound like a familiar attempt to make a federal case out of generic workplace difficulties.

Altman’s evidence painted a picture of her “as an employee who often failed to produce quality work and then blamed such failures on lack of training or the actions of her superiors, as well as an employee who became overly involved in matters that were not her concern and who needed unreasonable amounts of supervision,” Urbanski wrote.

The supervisor who allegedly harassed Altman was no sweetheart, as Altman’s exhibits portrayed him as someone who was “disliked by many employees, including Altman, because of his critical, intimidating and negative comments and actions toward his subordinates,” regardless of their age, sex or any other protected status, Urbanski recounted.

The case is Altman v. McHugh, Sec’y of the Army.
–Deborah Elkins

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