The head of the Federal Civil Rights Agency has ordered a review of the Dallas County Bureau after a USA TODAY investigation uncovered widespread complaints of internal discrimination.
“I plan to make sure we get to the truth of any allegations of abuse,” Charlotte Burrows, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a statement. “And if there is a problem in any area or office through this agency, we will fix it.”
In a meeting with Dallas employees on Wednesday, supervisors provided few details about how the agency handled their employees’ concerns. They made public statements by heart – including a lightly hidden warning about speaking to reporters – which left some employees even more disappointed.
EEOC called the meeting in the wake A USA TODAY investigation last weekWhich included testimonies from several employees who said they were subjected to discrimination and retaliation. The agency, born from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, is tasked with protecting millions across the country from workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
More:5 things to know about USA TODAY’s investigation of discrimination within EEOC
Wednesday’s meeting – less than 20 minutes of largely written statements made by three managers – did not address any specific complaints or allegations of patterns of abuse, and employees were not given an opportunity to ask questions, according to a recording obtained by USA TODAY
It was run by Dallas area manager Belinda McAllister, who many employees accused of facilitating harassment and discrimination.
“I want to make it clear that I am committed to providing a workplace that is free from discrimination or harassment,” said McAllister, before she and the other supervisors clarified the various internal avenues for reporting problems.
MacAllister warnedStaff direct media inquiries to the national press office.
“Each of you has the right to express your opinion or point of view with the media or any other advocacy group on an individual basis,” she said. “However, you must remember that (the headquarters) is speaking on behalf of the agency.”
In a statement after the meeting Wednesday, EEOC spokeswoman Jacinta Ma said the committee does not have a policy preventing employees from speaking to the media about their work environment, but that they cannot disclose confidential information related to the issues or how they are doing their jobs.
After the meeting, the staff discussed with each other and with USA TODAY how disappointed they were with the agency’s handling of the internal conflict that is now public. Someone described moderators’ view of a “default suggestion box”, among other ways to report discrimination, as sponsorship. Others said the meeting was “purely rubbish” and “a waste of time”.
Another USA TODAY employee, speaking of the agency’s internal complaints procedures that many have tried unsuccessfully, said, “raise your complaint with the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Everyone spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Last week, more than a dozen current and former EEOC employees told the Dallas USA TODAY office that they had been unfairly bypassed for promotions, discipline, auditing, denial of training opportunities, or due to poor evaluations or had been forced to resign – often pursuant to What they called the argument for lackluster performance.
One of the investigators, Richard Reinhart, a gay veteran of the Iraq War, was fired days after filing a discrimination complaint at Headquarters.
Black employees described being disciplined for standing in the wrong places or addressing company attorneys with their first names. Some investigators said that they informed commanders at agency headquarters about their discrimination, but that these complaints did not result in anywhere or as a result of retaliation.
Patonia Rowley – a current investigator with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – was reprimanded and then suspended after writing #BlackLivesMatter in an email to more than 100 co-workers.
Both Texas and the national branches of NAACP have released statements condemning how the agency handles domestic issues such as the Rhule case, as well as charges brought by overseas workers who have come to the committee for assistance.
“I have reviewed the materials, and they are suggesting to me that there is a very important issue that should be discussed by those who have the responsibility to oversee the EEOC,” said Derek Johnson, President of the NAACP. “I will take personal steps to make sure they have this information and understand its importance.”
Lawmakers have noticed.
Senator Patti Murray, Democrat – Washington, who chairs the Senate Health Council, said the Education, Work, and Pensions CommitteeThat provides oversight to EEOC.
Burrows, appointed by President Joe Biden to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told USA TODAY that it had ordered a “climate assessment” specifically for the Dallas County Office. She said she plans to hold another town hall for all employees.
“Even with pre-term allegations, I take a personal responsibility to ensure that our mission is materialized,” Burrows said in a statement. “I am committed to listening to the employees and understanding what they are facing.”
Since running the story,More than fifteen current and former EEOC employees, as well as special and federal employees, contacted USA TODAY about the agency. Reporters collect advice sent to [email protected].
Tom Crane, a labor attorney in San Antonio, Blog post books Last week on USA TODAY findings and the larger trend of overworked investigators on the commission.
“They don’t have enough workers, and honestly, it’s a practical joke,” Crane said. “Ninety-nine times out of every 100 times, they don’t conduct any investigation, and you have to file a lawsuit.”
Crane recommended that while workers file charges against their employers with EEOC, they should be prepared to file a lawsuit. Commission letters starting this process provide 90 days to file a claim, which he said was a narrow turnaround.
Internal EEOC data obtained by USA TODAY indicate that workplace issues in the Dallas area have extended to how it handles overseas employer investigations.
From 2015 to 2019, black workers in the area covered by the county – which includes San Antonio, El Paso, and parts of New Mexico – formally filed more than 7,100 cases of racial discrimination with the agency. The province investigated and confirmed allegations in 13 of those cases, or about 1 in 550.
Martin Ebel, Field Program Director at EEOC, said that analyzing confirmed allegations does not take into account the large number of complaints the agency is unable to pursue due to jurisdiction issues or time limits. He said the agency helps workers in other ways, including mediating settlements in what he calls merit decisions.
Over the past six years, EEOC has recovered approximately $ 78 million annually for victims of racial discrimination in lawsuits and mediation, according to agency statistics. In the Dallas office, that meant about $ 3 million a year for black workers who filed charges based on race.
Gary Bledsoo, president of NAACP in Texas, said the examples uncovered by last week’s investigation pointed to structural problems throughout the agency.
He said, “There are serious internal issues related to how to deal with and deal with issues that are not in the public interest.”
Bledsoe said the NAACP will look to help the inbound staff and outside workers that the agency has failed, including Rhule.
“The actions against Rhule demonstrate a lack of understanding of the laws the agency has to enforce,” he said.
Nick Bensenstadler, Brett Murphy and Javonti Anderson are journalists on the USA TODAY investigation team. Contact Nick at [email protected], npenzenstadler, via Signal at 720-507-5273; Brett at [email protected], brettMmurphy, by Signal at 508-523-5195; And Javonte at [email protected], JavonteA, by Signal at 312-919-0360.