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Christine Todd Whitman, who dealt with a racial-profiling controversy as New Jersey’s governor, opened her tenure as EPA administrator by moving to drop the agency’s legal battle against a black employee who won a $300,000 judgment in a discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff in the case, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, said Whitman’s decision was a healthy start toward better relations between the Environmental Protection Agency and its employees. “I’m incredibly delighted that she has taken this very bold step to reverse some of the anti-civil rights actions of the Browner administration,” said Coleman-Adebayo, referring to Whitman’s predecessor, Carol Browner. A federal jury ordered the EPA last August to pay damages to Coleman-Adebayo, who said she suffered years of racial and sexual harassment. Coleman-Adebayo, a resident of Bethesda, Md., is a senior adviser to the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances. She claimed in her lawsuit that she was denied promotion on two occasions while white men in similar positions were not. She said she was the target of racial slurs and suffered retaliation after she complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The jury awarded her $600,000 in compensatory damages. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly subsequently cut the award in half. On Jan. 22, the Justice Department asked the judge to overturn the jury’s findings, order a new trial or reduce the award further to $50,000. On the same day, the EPA’s acting administrator, W. Michael McCabe, wrote to the Justice Department requesting that motions to overturn the verdict “not be pursued.” Whitman was sworn in Jan. 31 as EPA administrator. The next day, she wrote her own letter urging the Justice Department to withdraw its motion to overturn the verdict. “I believe that swift, final resolution of this issue best serves EPA employees, as well as the plaintiff,” Whitman wrote. Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, said Whitman’s request has been received and is under review. Whitman’s final two years as governor were clouded by allegations that New Jersey State Police officers targeted black and Hispanic motorists for traffic stops and vehicle searches. Her administration was accused of being slow to respond to charges of racial profiling. Adding fuel to that furor was the publication last year of a 1996 picture showing Whitman frisking a black youth during a police tour in Camden, N.J. Whitman took the helm at EPA at a time when the agency is facing scrutiny over allegations of discrimination. The House Committee on Science spent more than a year investigating “allegations of intolerance at EPA,” chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said at an October hearing. He said EPA employees who are black or disabled have complained of discrimination and harassment, and whistleblowers have claimed they suffered retaliation for talking to members of Congress. Browner, who served as EPA administrator for all eight years of the Clinton administration, testified to the committee that EPA policy prohibits “discrimination in any form, whether it be race, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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