Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The ‘Palmer Effect’ on the US Foreign Service

Caption: "The old state department buildi...Image via Wikipedia

FSO Alison Palmer once worked as social secretary to a US ambassador’s wife 

Cape Cod Times has an article on Alison Palmer’s battle against the U.S. State Department which began in the 1970s when she couldn’t land Foreign Service officer jobs because of her gender (Wellfleet resident's lawsuit broke ground for women | January 11, 2010). Excerpt below:

In 1976, when she was in her mid-40s, Alison Palmer brought a class-action discrimination suit against the U.S. Department of State because she was tired of being passed over for jobs as a Foreign Service officer.

Palmer is now 78. Last month, more than 20 years after winning her case, Palmer decided with her attorneys to agree to terminate the lawsuit, said one of Palmer's attorneys, Elisabeth Lyons, who was practicing with a Washington, D.C., firm at the time. On Dec. 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, upon an agreement by the parties, dismissed what has come to be known as "the Palmer Case."

The parties agreed to dismiss the class action because the State Department had finally demonstrated compliance with court orders, made reparations to affected women and modified hiring and personnel systems.
She was hired as a Foreign Service officer in 1959 and specialized in African affairs. She served in what was then the Congo in central Africa and then-British Guiana on South America's northern coast. The State Department then paid for her to attend Boston University for a master's degree in African studies, which she completed in 1970.

But after the federal government had invested in her future, and despite her graduate degree, Palmer was turned down for two assignments in Africa after ambassadors wrote that they didn't want her because she was a woman. A third ambassador in Ethiopia also said he didn't want her because she was female. She ended up as a social secretary to his wife.
In 1975, 9 percent of Foreign Service officers were women, according to Leader. As of 2007, it was 37 percent, according to the State Department.

"Why not 51 percent, the same as the general population?" Palmer said.

Read the whole thing here.

According to this, a Court Order dated January 19, 1989, found that the Department of State (“State”) had discriminated against women in the administration of a written examination that applicants for positions in the Foreign Service were obliged to take. As part of the relief awarded, it enjoined State from administering any written examination that had an adverse impact upon women.

In 2002, plaintiffs and State entered into a Consent Decree. Pursuant to the decree, the court certified as a class all female applicants who took, but did not pass, the 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994 Foreign Service Written Examinations. The decree also permitted 390 members of the plaintiff class to participate in the Oral Assessment phase of the Foreign Service application process. These women, referred to as the invitees, had the highest non-passing scores on the 1991-1994 examinations.

I could not  find the 1989 or the 2002 court documents, but have included links to some of the Palmer case documents available online below.

Related Items:
Palmer Case Documents:

Mar 24, 1987 DC

May 11, 1990 DC

May 11, 1990 | United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Palmer v. Rice

Palmer Documents

1 comment:

Digger said...

Excellent post. I have linked to you here: http://lifeafterjerusalem.blogspot.com/2010/01/women-in-foreign-service.html