Sex discrimination in Betty Ford’s White House? Yes, says Darlene Schmalzried. What’s more, Darlene, a former White House staffer, is so fired up about it, she is suing Betty Ford’s husband, Gerald, and four of his top aides for $100,000. Darlene, 27, says the White House paid her a salary lower than that paid to men who performed her job: editing the daily White House news summary. “I think I have a prima facie case of sex discrimination,” she says.
Darlene was hired in September 1974 at $11,064 a year. She had worked for the Shreveport Journal as a correspondent in Washington and as bureau chief in Baton Rouge. She is from Darien, Conn. and holds two journalism degrees from Northwestern. “I thought this was the one job in the White House that wouldn’t be political,” she says. As managing editor of the White House’s own daily (circ. 200), Darlene had three assistants to help her prepare a digest of 75 newspapers and TV news shows.
“I saw very little of President Ford,” she recalls. “I was usually tied up in my own office from about 11:30 in the morning till 10:30 at night. It made social life difficult.” But there were compensations. “I know the President always read our news summary,” she says. “We always reported everything that would be useful. And we did it without the editorial comments that existed during the Nixon administration.”
Darlene’s first jolt came early. “I discovered that one of the men who worked for me was paid $2,000 a year more,” she recalls. Last June Press Secretary Ron Nessen okayed a raise for her, but it was only $388 a year. “It was insulting,” Darlene fumes.
Darlene’s boss, James Shuman, told her the job had previously paid $26,000 a year and asked that she be boosted to $18,000. The request was turned down. “I was told that I would get a standard grade promotion that would bring my salary up to $13,931,” Darlene says. “I resigned the next week.”
Her suit, which names Nessen, Shuman, Ford’s chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld (now Defense Secretary) and Rumsfeld’s successor, Richard Cheney, seeks her reinstatement as editor of the news summary “at a salary commensurate with the responsibilities.”
Darlene has received some 100 supporting phone calls. “I even heard from my 75-year-old grandmother, a conservative from Kansas,” says Darlene. “She said, ‘Right on, sister.’ ” Mrs. Ford has made no comment yet. But this does not affect Darlene’s admiration. “Betty Ford,” she says simply, “is a great lady.”
Right now, Darlene is working part-time in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau. “I need a full-time job,” she says. “Yesterday I had to apply for food stamps.” Whether she wins or loses, Darlene has had one small satisfaction: her lawsuit made the White House news summary.