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After 20 Years, DEA Sex Discrimination Case Ends

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock LikeViews: 0(WASHINGTON) -- It took her 20 years, but Ann Garcia, a retired special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, finally won her battle against her former employer.

In 1992, Garcia brought a lawsuit against the DEA, arguing that she and some 200 other female agents had tried repeatedly to obtain plum overseas assignments but were blocked because the agency discriminated against them based on their sex.

Late last month, a federal administrative judge ruled that the DEA had "repeatedly and purposefully" discriminated against the class of female agents in the early '90s, and that the women had been treated less favorably than their male counterparts at the DEA.

The case was pending for two decades at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination in the private and federal sectors.

Garcia couldn't believe it took so long for the judge to rule on the merits of the case.

"It's been going on for almost 20 years," said Garcia. "The women of DEA suffered blatant discrimination in the workplace for years, decades. The ruling is a testament to the strength and the courage of many DEA agents who refused to accept the status quo."

In her ruling, Administrative Judge Frances del Toro wrote, "Although many qualified females applied for overseas positions, males were routinely selected over equally or better qualified female agents."

The next phase of the case will focus on damages.

"What we are hoping for is relief for all these women who lost out on foreign assignments, which could include back pay and compensatory damages for the pain and suffering they experienced. Those amounts will be different for each woman, but the EEOC allows for a maximum of $300,000 per person for compensatory damages relief," said Cathy Harris, Garcia's attorney from the firm Kator Parks & Weiser.

For now, Garcia, who is spending her retirement in New Mexico, is grateful for the judge's decision. "I just hope that DEA can recognize that injustices were done, " she said, "and do the right thing by the women of DEA. "

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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