Black U.S. Secret Service agents may pursue claims of racial discrimination in promotions as a group, a federal appeals court said, dismissing a government challenge to giving the complaint class-action status.
The ruling means that about 120 current and former agents can pursue their claims that they were denied promotion to senior positions because of their race.
A three-judge panel in Washington on Friday upheld a finding by a lower court that “the interests of efficiency and uniformity supported resolving the question of discrimination in one stroke rather than requiring the same question to be answered separately for each individual,” according to an opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg.
The original complaint underlying the ruling was filed in 2000 and the class affirmed on Friday includes black agents who sought promotions to the GS-14 or GS-15 level from 1995 to 2005.
The Secret Service employs about 3,000 special agents. Established in 1865 during the U.S. Civil War to suppress counterfeit currency, it’s best known for providing security for the U.S. president, other national leaders and visiting foreign heads of state.
In recent years, the agency has been roiled by scandal. At least nine employees left after allegations that they hired prostitutes while setting up security for a presidential visit to Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012.
Three agents were sent home from Amsterdam in March on the eve of a visit by President Barack Obama for violating a rule that bans drinking within 10 hours of going on duty.
Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message requesting comment on the appeals court decision.
The ruling did away with arguments “largely erected as roadblocks to a trial,” said Catherine Stetson, an attorney for the agents. “We’re looking forward to discussing next steps with the government.”
Stetson said she didn’t know how many members of the class still are on duty with the agency.
The case is In re: Jeh Johnson, 13-8002, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia (Washington).