Air Force Pays $140,000 to Settle Base Sex Discrimination Suit

3D rendering of gavel, law scales and books on a wooden table
3D rendering of gavel, law scales and books on a wooden table

The United States Air Force paid Bridget E. Lyons $140,000 to settle a federal job discrimination lawsuit in which she alleged she wasn't properly promoted at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, according to court documents obtained by this news organization.

Lyons was an attorney in the Air Force Materiel Command Law Office Acquisition Division. She worked full-time starting in 2000 on weapons systems contracts she said were worth billions of dollars.

"It was the upshot of 10 years of sex discrimination and reprisal against me by the management of the law office," Lyons said Monday. "So I feel quite vindicated for having received the settlement and gotten the long process over with."

Lyons claimed gender discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment stemming from her unsuccessful attempts for promotion to leadership positions, according to court documents.

Her complaint said that during two May 2007 meetings, then-supervisor Peter Ditalia told Lyons he would see her "finished in the office." The complaint said the only witness to that statement was then Colonel Thomas Doyon, who said in a memo three years later that the statement "could have been made," but that Doyon blamed Lyons for what occurred.

In September 2009, Col. Doyon denied Lyons a promotion, Lyons' complaint alleges. She said Doyon "pre-selected a man, accelerated his promotion, created after-the-fact criteria, which he did not meet, and then provided varying reasons to Lyons for her non-selection."

"I went up for promotion multiple times, five or six times in a two-year time period, and got passed over every time for men," Lyons said. "It was a glass ceiling kind of situation. No woman had been promoted in that division in that office. Ever."

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose granted the Air Force summary judgment in December 2014, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that there was no hostile work environment. But in 2016, the appellate court sent back the rest of the case. That led to mediation and settlement talks.

The settlement "shall not be in any way construed as an admission by the AF that it has acted wrongfully with respect to (Lyons)," according to the 4-page agreement filed in Dayton's U.S. District Court.

The Air Force Public Affairs office did not respond to a message seeking comment. A Wright-Patterson Air Force Base spokesman referred to the public affairs office in Washington, D.C.

Lyons said she worked in the biggest division (30 to 40 employees) out of the 70-person law office. She said she was surprised to see sexism at the base: "The very lawyers that are supposed to be making sure that the military doesn't do this kind of stuff are the very people doing it."

Lyons continued to work there until January 2016 because she loved the work and didn't want to leave her family. She now commutes during the week to Washington, D.C. and returns on weekends.

Lyons and her husband Ed -- a Huber Heights city council member -- said they wanted to go public to make a point.

"I think, in that office, all the women are in the same situation," Lyons said. "People need to know that sex discrimination and reprisal is happening right here, and it's in the local area.

"It's not just some pie-in-the-sky thing. It happens to your very neighbor. It happens to the woman down the street or the woman that you see in the grocery store."

The Air Force has another lawsuit against it alleging discrimination at Wright-Patt. Dr. Margaret C. DePalma said in a complaint that she was discriminated against in her job as a historian in the Air Force Research Laboratory History Office.

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