Belzoni, MS native, Mary Ruth Hooker Robinson, was the first African American woman to rise to the highest ranks of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. But her moment in the sun would be brief, and she would be denied the job security and compensation that should have been hers.
Because of an accident while at work in 2000 – which led to declining health, loss of income, and the title to her home – Robinson faces the possibility of homelessness and worse as winter in the nation’s capitol approaches.
Over the last 20 years, she has continued to endure a battle with her DOS employers for compensation that she claims is due her.
“I developed the Education Training and Awareness for the Diplomatic Security Service, the largest program in the DSS,” she said. “With a budget of $450 million, there was a lot of envy and resentment. They used my work as the model and added on to it. They didn’t have the knowledge to do it from scratch.”
Robinson, 65, had faced more than her fair share of discrimination during her career with the State Department and had filed three EEO complaints along the way (in 1995, 1997, and 1998), which she won in 1998. It was this victory and the settlement agreement that positioned her to become the first Black female to achieve GS 15, the government’s highest pay level, and the Senior Executive Service (SES) position in the department.
The backlash against her began shortly after she began the special assignment as a Congressional Fellow. The Congressional Fellowship is designed to enhance and further the core qualifications for the SES, she said.
Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) invited her to work with him and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) as a Congressional Fellow. She also had invitations for a fellowship from South Carolina’s Sen. Strom Thurmond and Mississippi’s Trent Lott. She became a Congressional Fellow under the sponsorship of Thompson.
“I went to Capitol Hill to learn the system there so that I could come back and incorporate my knowledge on how our agency interacts with Congress to get effective legislation, budget requirements, and whatever we needed from the operational standpoint.
“The State Department was angry that I accepted Bennie Thompson’s invitation,” she said. “Both Thurmond and Lott were involved with foreign affairs. And they wanted to use me to have clout and entrée with Thurmond and Lott.”
Robinson said she felt a growing animosity over her work with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). At one point during her correspondence with the State Department, she said, “I was warned that I worked for President Bush and not for the Congressional Black Caucus.”
On July 12, 2000, while still with the Congressman, Robinson fell as she was getting out of the car. Her head struck the wall of the parking structure, and she fell flat down on her face and was knocked out. She suffered a concussion, along with cervical and lower back injuries.
“I was getting out of the car, and I wound up tripping and falling and landing on the floor. I suffered a concussion and damaged my cervical spine and lower back.”
During her recovery and still on her fellowship, she was able to use flex time and could work from home. The State Department said they needed Robinson back. But DOS would not allow her to use flex time or work from home, she said.
“My doctor had put me on temporary disability, and I was under full approval of a Workers’ Compensation claim. But the State Department put me on AWOL. And they used the false AWOL claim as the reason to terminate me. You can’t put anyone on Workers’ Comp on AWOL. But they did it anyway.”
She has not been compensated for her lost income. And her position with the DSS was given to a white male, she said.
Her legal counsel advised her that the State Department needed only to send a certain form to the Department of Labor to pay her salary. The State Department agreed only to the medical payments, but they never allowed for compensation.
Thompson has been supportive of Hooker Robinson’s claim all the way from the beginning from 2004 up to November 8, 2011, regarding her “disability benefits from the Department of Labor and requesting a speedy resolution and formal response to all claims.” Thompson has also called on the authorities “to investigate any wrongdoing or violation of law” by any administrative party within the Labor Department.
She has been under medical care since the fall in 2000.
“I am fighting for my life due to Stage 4 metastatic cancer, a work-related [injury], and other life-threatening diseases,” she said. “I presently have five weeks of targeted chemotherapy to complete to save my life and in-house hospice has been recommended. I cannot perform any daily activities without healthcare aides and assistance.”
While Robinson was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital, her house was foreclosed on and sold at auction, she reports.
On October 14, Robinson was evicted from her home. She is now awaiting emergency housing adequate for her dire state.
“I have nowhere else to go. I have not had [the] opportunity to find alternative disability handicapped housing because my immune system is compromised, and I am bedridden and house-bound.”
A court hearing on the legality of the sale of her home is scheduled for November 5, she said.