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Suit Says U.S. Attorney's Office a 'Girls Club'

Emilia Rodriguez Velez

The U.S. attorney's office in Puerto Rico was a "girls club" in which male attorneys were the victims of discrimination and a hostile work environment. That, at least, is the allegation of Juan E. Milanes, a former assistant U.S. attorney there. He has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was discriminated against based on his gender and constructively discharged.

Milanes filed his lawsuit against Emilia Rodriguez-Velez (pictured), the U.S. attorney in Puerto Rico, and Eric H. Holder, U.S. attorney general. Details of the lawsuit were released this week when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued an opinion ordering the transfer of the case from the District of Columbia to the federal district court in San Juan.

Kessler's opinion provides a synopsis of Milanes' allegations:

Plaintiff Juan Milanes is a former Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) in the District of Puerto Rico. He alleges numerous incidents which either contributed to creation of a hostile work environment or constituted retaliation. Plaintiff was assigned to the Narcotics Unit while in Puerto Rico, where his superior was the Unit’s Deputy Chief, Jeanette Mercado. Plaintiff alleges that Mercado created a hostile work environment. When Plaintiff complained about his work environment, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, allegedly retaliated by denying Plaintiff’s children the benefit of having the Department pay for them to attend an English-language school in Puerto Rico, while still giving that benefit to her friends in a 'Girls Club' at the office. Plaintiff allegedly was further retaliated against when Mercado assigned him the oldest and weakest narcotics cases, threatened him with disciplinary action, and attempted to sabotage his trial work.

It seems that Milanes sought to escape what he viewed as an untenable situation by applying for a transfer to an overseas detail in Kosovo. He was accepted for the transfer but blocked from leaving for it when Rodriguez-Velez served him with a written reprimand on the day he was to depart, he contends. When Rodriguez-Velez later accused Milanes of threatening her, his overseas detail was retracted.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the Department of Justice and met with officials from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) in Washington, DC. The EOUSA forwarded his complaint to its general counsel’s office, but Plaintiff alleges it has not conducted an investigation nor given him evidence he requested. Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation and alleges that he was constructively discharged on June 27, 2008, when he was forced to resign his position as an AUSA.

Milanes initially filed his lawsuit in federal court in Puerto Rico, where he also filed a motion to recuse all the district's judges and asked for appointment of an outside judge to hear the case. When that motion was denied, Milanes dismissed his own case and then refiled it in Washington, where the Justice Department asked to have it sent back to Puerto Rico.

That is what Kessler did in her order this week, concluding that "Puerto Rico has a greater interest in having this case decided there." Maybe so, but we all have an interest in knowing how it turns out.

[Hat tip to Michael Doyle at Suits & Sentences.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 23, 2009 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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