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The Army just settled with a civilian who claims a sergeant major called her a ‘house [N-word]’

An African-American civilian hospital employee “reached a significant settlement agreement" with the Army in late April after a lawsuit filed last year alleging that she was subjected to a racist and sexist command climate while working in South Korea.

Shawlawn Beckford, who served on active duty for 11 years before returning in 2006 as a civilian, had accused the Army of supporting a hostile work environment at Brian Allgood Army Community Hospital at Yongsan, where she was an administrator from 2009 to 2015.

“As a civilian employee it is my duty to represent and uphold the Army’s mission, vision, and leadership philosophy — in or out of uniform,” Beckford said in a May 1 statement from the office of her attorney, Kellogg Hansen in Washington, D.C. “But I am more than a position. I am a person with feelings and emotions, and I was mistreated in a system that failed to protect me."

Reached for comment by Army Times, Beckford requested to keep the dollar amount of the settlement private.

“While we cannot comment further on the details of the case, harassment is contrary to the Army Values which require us to treat all members with dignity and respect,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz-Cruz told Army Times in a statement, declining to comment on whether the settlement is an admission of wrongdoing on the part of those named in the lawsuit.

The 32-page complaint, filed in April 2018, details Beckford’s allegations of years of demeaning comments and actions from supervisors at the hospital, as well as her attempts to resolve the issue through the Equal Employment Opportunity program.

“... the Army disregarded Ms. Beckford’s repeated overtures,” according to the brief. “As a result, the harassing and discriminatory behavior directed towards Ms. Beckford continued unabated throughout her tenure at BAACH.”

And because she was outspoken about the situation, the lawsuit alleged, her command retaliated against her.

“Among other things, after Ms. Beckford began speaking out about the hostile work environment at BAACH, her superiors punished her with additional and uncompensated work duties, denied her pay raises that were offered to similarly situated employees, and excluded her from important e-mail communications and meetings involving her team.”

During her tenure, Beckford reported directly to a uniformed deputy commander of clinical services, mostly lieutenant colonels ― several of whom spoke highly of her ― according to the lawsuit. She had no performance or behavioral actions during her time there, nor ever received a negative counseling.

The complaint alleges that her command sergeant major, also African-American, made demeaning comments to Beckford soon after she arrived at the command in 2009.

“On a weekly basis during that time period, [the command sergeant major] would visit Ms. Beckford’s office and make belligerent, gendered comments toward her,” according to the lawsuit. "For example, he told her, ‘You’re a single parent. You’re a slut.’ ”

He also made comments about her race, the complaint said, calling her “just a house [N-word],” “dumb [N-word],” “our token Black person” and “ghetto.”

He also made racially charged comments about others in the command, the lawsuit said.

"Specifically, [he] regularly referred to Ms. Beckford’s subordinates as ‘[N-word],’ and made offensive and threatening comments like “What are you [N-word] doing here? You know that master is going to come in here,” the complaint said.

The command did open a 15-6 investigation, according to the lawsuit, but during her interview, the investigator was suspicious of her claims.

"For example, he asked her if she was ‘sure [the command sergeant major] wasn’t using [N-word] in slang, you know, the way you talk?’ "

The 15-6 investigation found that though he used racial slurs in the office, it wasn’t in a discriminatory manner, because he himself is black. Still, he was relieved of his position and barred from leading a command again, according to the complaint, but stayed working within the office and continued to harass Beckford.

The following year, Beckford lodged a complaint about an officer, saying he referred to women in the command as “bitches” and “clowns.” The two completed mediation, and he was not punished, according to the lawsuit.

During the same period, she alleged, her lieutenant colonel “demanded that Ms. Beckford go grocery shopping for him or make him plates of food ― tasks that were not part of her job requirements, but that Ms. Beckford believed he viewed as stereotypically female obligations."

In a meeting with the command chaplain to discuss the issue, the officer said that “women are only good for purse shopping,” the lawsuit alleged; the chaplain suggested Beckford find a new job.

In 2014, she filed an EEO complaint saying another senior enlisted leader made racist statements about one of her colleagues, who also filed a complaint, according to the lawsuit.

The NCO had told the colleague that “my dogs don’t like Black people and I’ll set them on you,” “Black people get juice and head grease on my headboards,” “Come back, the ghetto called and they want their bling back,” and that he couldn’t be racist because he had “Black music on my iPod" and was raised by “Black women from the projects," the lawsuit alleged.

Ultimately, Beckford moved on to a job stateside at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. She is currently a program managing director at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.

“Not only is this settlement a significant accomplishment in Ms. Beckford’s efforts to hold the Army accountable for the abusive treatment that she suffered, but it is also a testament to Ms. Beckford’s deep commitment to the Army as an institution, and to her commitment to ensuring that civilian employees on Army installations worldwide are treated equally regardless of their race or gender,” her attorney, Katie Cooper, said in the statement.

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