Equal work, unequal pay

Former Assistant District Attorneys Linda Guadarrama and Terry Moore don't know why they didn't have successful careers in former Dallas County District Attorney John Vance's office, except for one thing: Neither of them has a penis.

Nearly a year after Vance left office, the two women are awaiting trial, scheduled for November, in a lawsuit that alleges they were denied equal pay and promotions and ultimately fired because of their sex. Vance, his former first assistant Norman Kinne, and the district attorney's office are named as defendants.

Guadarrama and Moore say their cases aren't isolated incidents. Records they obtained from the county auditor's office show that under Vance an overwhelming number of male prosecutors were paid higher wages than their female counterparts. In many cases, the women had more seniority and higher conviction rates than the men.

Guadarrama was an assistant district attorney in Athens in Henderson County when Vance hired her in 1990. The move to the city came with a cut in pay, though Guadarrama says that Vance assured her that she had plenty of room for advancement and raises. In the two years that Guadarrama was with Vance's office she was promoted three times, but received only one small cost-of-living raise plus one bump in salary from a promotion.

"This whole thing started when I couldn't get a raise," Guadarrama says. "He kept telling me there was no money. I knew that was a lie, and that's when I started investigating into the other attorneys' pay."

In spring 1992, she filed an open-records request with the county auditor's office, from which she learned that men she had trained were making thousands of dollars more than she was. Vance, she claims, blamed a tight budget and told her to "wait your turn." Guadarrama's turn never came.

When she pressed Vance to justify paying her male co-workers more than her, she claims that Vance said of one man: "Well, Jerry has a family to support, so that's why his pay may be a bit more." Guadarrama was single at the time. Guadarrama says Vance told another female attorney that she had been overlooked for a promotion because "Mike just got married."

Four months after Guadarrama confronted Vance in 1992, she was summoned to Norm Kinne's office and instructed to sign a letter of resignation or be fired. She refused to resign and was never told why she was fired. Nearly a year later, Guadarrama filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a move that would eventually lead to her federal lawsuit.

The decision to file the complaint was difficult, she says, and compounded by the fact that she believes other female prosecutors received similar treatment -- women who she contends should be her co-plaintiffs. Only one, however, would eventually join Guadarrama's lawsuit.

Veteran prosecutor Terry Moore was hired by Henry Wade in 1980 and moved up the ranks quickly until Wade left office and Vance took over in 1987. Vance moved Moore from her position as chief felony prosecutor in Criminal District Court No. 4 and shuttled her around to various assignments in the felony division. Upon her return from maternity leave in 1988, she was demoted from felony cases to juvenile cases.

Unlike many prosecutors who see the district attorney's office as a stepping stone to more lucrative private practice, Moore intended to be a career prosecutor. But on July 1, 1994, Moore says, Kinne called her into his office and asked her how long she'd been working there. "I said, 'Thirteen years,' and he said, 'That's long enough.'"

Moore says Kinne told her that he had received complaints about her performance and that Vance and he had concluded that she was burned out. Moore got the same choice as Guadarrama: resign or be fired. She resigned. "I packed up 13 and a half years of work and was out by the end of the day," Moore says.

After suffering months of depression, Moore joined Guadarrama in her suit. "I figured somebody needed to speak up," Moore says. "Two plaintiffs are better than one."

Guadarrama says that she never would have filed the suit if she had any family in Dallas, for fear of retaliation. Moore says that when she decided to do defense work she feared that judges would stop throwing work her way or even rule unfairly against her clients if she pursued a suit.

"It's kind of a big machine to fight the DA's office and Vance," Moore says. "Not once in the...years since this case has been filed has this made anything close to The Dallas Morning News."

Guadarrama says she contacted five attorneys who were unwilling to take her case, though privately, the lawyers would encourage her to pursue her claim. Her current lawyer, Doug Larson, has no such fears.

"I've been doing this kind of litigation for 30 years. I've sued the DA's office before -- including Vance's predecessors," Larson says. "The district attorney should know better than to discriminate against women."

Initially, the district attorney's office sought to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Vance, as a government official, was immune from civil liability. The court rejected that claim.

"They [also] filed a motion saying there was no evidence to support our position, but the court thought differently," Larson says.

On December 8, 1998, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the case should go forward, and a trial is scheduled to begin November 1 before U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater.

Neither Vance nor Kinne could be reached for comment. Dolena Westergard, the assistant district attorney representing the county, Vance, and Kinne declined to comment.

In depositions, Vance and Kinne deny they discriminated against the two women. They claim Guadarrama had a "bad attitude," though little documentation about her and Moore's work histories exists. The only piece of paper that the defense has is a one-page memo from Kinne to Vance about Moore, accusing her of failing to be prepared for trial in two forgery cases, being rude to a judge, and coming to court late and leaving early. Moore says she never heard the complaints before the depositions began, and Vance did not make a practice of giving his subordinates written evaluations.

Guadarrama isn't trying to strike a blow against sexual discrimination. She's seeking $200,000 in back pay for unpaid raises, plus unspecified punitive damages. But the case, she says, is not about the money. It's about bucking the status quo. "I won this case the day that John Vance decided not to run for re-election," Guadarrama says.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Felicia Mccarthy