The EEOC: Ignoring Lawlessness in the Federal Sector

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce federal laws barring discrimination in the American workplace. However, civil rights and whistleblower groups report the federal agency often ignores the unlawful discriminatory acts of "federal" officials. The article discusses the findings of The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C) on the EEOC’s failure to hold federal officials accountable for unlawful anti-discrimination violations. It also covers how the EEOC uses “double standards” when applying complaint timeframes on employees and applicant who allege discrimination by federal officials.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC is to explain and enforce federal laws barring discrimination in the American workplace.  However, the federal agency may often ignore the unlawful discriminatory acts of “federal” officials.  The latest Annual Report on the Federal Workforce on the EEOC’s website shows federal workplace discrimination statistics for the fiscal year 2015.  The report expressly shows how seldom federal agencies, including the EEOC, rule in favor of complainants. Out of the 6,009 merit complaints closed, the federal government found discrimination (against itself) in only 168 cases (2.7%).  Several factors contribute to the low rate of discrimination findings in the federal workplace.  The EEOC report is silent on such factors, including the two, which are covered in this article.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual’s race, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, and retaliation for reporting, participating in, and/or opposing a discriminatory practice

Factor: The EEOC unequally applies Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)  complaint guidelines.

 The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), at 29 CFR 1614, houses the Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint guidelines.  Federal agencies (Defendants) and employees or applicants for federal employment (Complainants) are to follow the guidelines.   The EEOC is to enforce the guidelines  Unfortunately, the EEOC fails to do so fairly.  Typically, when an agency misses a deadline during the complaint process, the EEOC will pardon the agency’s offense.  On the other hand, when a  complainant misses a deadline the EEOC will speedily dismiss the complainant’s claims.  According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, an EEOC Commissioner once admitted a “complaint would be dismissed if a complainant missed any of the deadlines”(GAO-09-712, Equal Employment Opportunity, August 2009, p.12).

One vital time-frame in the complaint process involves investigating discrimination claims.  When an agency fails to investigate employee claims timely, it often jeopardizes the complaint outcome making discrimination harder to prove.  During the time an aggrieved person awaits an agency workplace investigation, witnesses to discriminatory act might leave, relevant documents might be overlooked, recollections of earlier events might grow fuzzy, or critical evidence might disappear.   Therefore, to combat discrimination it is crucial for agencies to investigate employee claims within statutory time-frames.  Specifically, the EEOC’s guidelines require agencies to investigate and issue a report to the complainant “within 180 days” of the complaint filing.  Still, agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture commonly ignore the 180-day fact-finding requirement. In turn, the EEOC commonly ignores when agencies fail to comply.   The Office of Special Counsel (2015) wrote: “. . . 50 % of civil rights complaints filed against high-level USDA Agriculture officials were not acted on the legally required time-frame.”

The executive branch is the organ exercising authority in and holding responsibility for the governance of a state. The executive executes and enforces law.

Factor: The EEOC unfairly subjects its own workforce to hearing judges under its paid control.

The EEOC unfairly subjects its workforce to hearing judges under its fiscal control.  Therefore, many within the EEOC’s own workforce, personnel instrumental in administering complaints for federal employees in the Executive Branch, may not report any wrong-doing by EEOC officials.  Retaliation is a reality whistleblowers often face after filing a complaint against the U.S. Federal Government, the nation’s largest employer (17 Steps A Federal Employees Guide For Tackling Workplace Discrimination, 2018).

The EEOC pays Contract Administrative Judges to hear claims lodged against it from employees and applicants for employment (EEOC, Employee’s Guide to the Commission’s Internal EEO Programs, p. 15). Former EEOC Administrative Judge Elizabeth Bullock expresses deep concern about the EEOC’s use of contract judges.  She raises concerns about the “impartiality of using judges under EEOC’s fiscal control” to rule on cases against the EEOC.  Although Bullock won a retaliation claim against the EEOC at the administrative level before filing suit in court (Bullock v Berrien),  Bullock says, “If the contract attorney wants a permanent relationship with the EEOC, he or she will do what the enforcement agency wants it to do regardless of the case merits.”

The EEOC: Ignores Lawlessness In the Federal Sector

 The EEOC maintains an agreement with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).  The agreement states the EEOC shall refer federal employment discrimination cases over to the OSC for potential disciplinary action when discrimination is found.   Nevertheless, the EEOC fails to hold federal officials accountable when it finds that a supervisor or manager acted unlawfully.   The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C) is a civil rights and whistleblower group. The advocacy group comprises present and former federal employees harmed due to workplace discrimination.  The C4C made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that uncovered the EEOC had made no  referrals to the OSC for the period of inquiry.

The C4C asserts the EEOC’s failure to enforce anti-discrimination laws undermines the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002.  The Act intended to revive the federal agency employers’ time-honored obligation to provide a work environment free of discrimination and retaliation.

During the upcoming 2019 Annual Whistleblower and Film Festival Summit, C4C panelists will discuss the EEOC’s failure to combat workplace discrimination.   The free Summit will take place on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  The gathering will run from July 29th through August 1st, 2019. For more information click here.

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Tanya Ward Jordan

 Tanya Ward Jordan is President and Founder of The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C), a  civil rights organization challenging racism and reprisal in the federal workplace.   She received an award from Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner for her input into the "Notification and Federal Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002” and Congressional acclaim from Representative Elijah Cummings for her invaluable input on a bill, known as Federal Employee Anti-discrimination Act of 2017.

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