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Systemic Discrimination in the Federal Workplace

by | Jun 4, 2020 | Civil Rights

I don’t often post about my cases, but given what is happening I think it is important to discuss a case that I am working right now.

This case features a federal employee who was subject to as clear cut a case of discrimination as I have seen. You may think, “that she must have been called the ‘n-word’, or been subjected to nooses or other overt behavior.” But none of that happened. Instead, among other things, my client’s supervisor warned her that if she complained about him, she would be seen as just “another angry black woman.” He used her race to inflict fear on her that she would not be believed if she came forward with complaints about his statements or the fact that he purposely falsified federal inventory logs.

Eventually, my client did come forward and complain to the chain of command, not only about the racial comments, but also about the supervisor’s criminal acts. Her command asked her to write up the complaint, but to remove the racial aspects in order to “streamline matters.”  This is systemic racism – the Agency had wanted to get rid of supervisor and now had a path.  But they did not care about the hostile environment that my client had endured.

Eventually, the Agency settled with the supervisor by allowing him to transfer to another federal agency and removing the complaint from his HR record. This was a white man that was violating federal law by intentionally falsifying documents because he was too lazy to do his job. And he was allowed to simply move to another job.  As far as the Agency was concerned, the case was closed – they had gotten rid of the bad apple.  Unfortunately, they did not carry through on investigating how he had used race-based intimidation to last as long as he did.

So, my client pushed her case, demanding answers.  During discovery, we sought information as to why the Agency settled with the supervisor instead of pushing the case and investigating my client’s claims.  The answer we received was that it was easier to settle because “proving intent would be too difficult”. Mind you, my client was prepared to testify and had receipts. An internal investigation found her credible and him not credible. This man had been falsifying logs for who knows how long, but, it was “too difficult” to prove intent.

This is systemic racism. And I was reminded of it when the Minneapolis District Attorney originally charged George Floyd’s killer with 3rd degree murder because “intent is too hard to prove.” You never see prosecutors say it’s too hard to prove intent when they overcharge minorities and people of color. Its only too hard to prove intent when the defendant is white. This is systemic racism and it leads to higher conviction and plea rates for minorities (because of the threat of serious jail time upon conviction) while whites are more likely to take their chances at trial because the potential punishment of their lower charges is not as severe. This is systemic racism and it can only be changed by demanding that government attorneys do their jobs – even if it is hard.

You may wonder, if the Agency settled so easily with someone who so blatantly violated the law, did they try to settle with the client?  But we all know the answer to that.  The Agency only offered a “settlement” after the Judge ordered them to make an offer.  It was beyond insulting for what my client had been through.  Why?  Because proving racism is hard.  The Agency knows that the odds are stacked in their favor.  The government has unlimited resources and can rely on the fact that people don’t recognize racism if it isn’t wearing a white hood. It is easier for them to let a guilty man walk and fight the whistleblower who reported him.  This case shows why so many minorities are afraid to come forward with complaints. What if nobody believes them?  What if they are brushed aside?  What if they have to fight the Government and overcome all the obstacles in their way?  For many, it is just too much trouble.

But we will continue on in this fight, even though it is hard.  That is what justice requires.  Even if we are not able to overcome the obstacles in our way, at least my client stood up for what was right.  Now, if only government attorneys around the country would do the same thing.