Racial Harassment Rife in EPA Enforcement Office
“Management Mafia” Condones Slurs and Adverse Acts While Resisting Remedies
Washington, DC — In a blistering ruling the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that racially “discriminatory and demeaning comments and adverse treatment” were “severe” and “permeated the workplace” in an enforcement branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Rather than address complaints by employees the agency circled the wagons around its problem manager and filed dilatory appeals, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The case involves EPA Special Agent George De Los Santos, who is based in the Criminal Investigations Division office in Dallas. He had complained of a pattern of discriminatory comments, including –
- His supervisor accusing him of stealing license plates and reselling them for profit in Mexico;
- Women co-workers were routinely referred to as “pussies”;
- Native American co-workers were called names like “Squatting Eagle” and “Two Dogs F__king” while an African-American colleague was ridiculed as mentally slow.
De Los Santos’ supervisor dismissed this conduct as “just Special Agent grab-assing” and admonished that “you need to act like a man” and stop complaining. Significantly, the EEO Commission found that:
“Here, many of the offensive comments…occurred in front of supervisors immediately after a meeting about EEO issues, demonstrating that agency officials did not take EEO issues seriously.”
EPA rejected De Los Santos’ complaint, issuing a finding of no discrimination. He appealed to the EEOC which reversed; finding not only was there a hostile work environment but also a series of discriminatory actions such as assigning De Los Santos to custodial duties. Rather than accept the EEOC ruling, EPA filed a request for reconsideration, dragging the matter out for nearly eight more months. EEOC rejected this appeal on August 4, 2008 and ordered EPA to post a notice of its ruling in its Dallas Office.
Throughout, EPA has defended the supervisory agent and even gave him a “Manager of the Year” award. Now, EPA must decide whether to implement the EEOC order or appeal it to federal court.
“In many federal agencies there is a management mafia that will defend one of their own no matter how outrageous the conduct,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “In our experience, EPA employees who file complaints are subjected to a new ordeal, presided over by an Office of General Counsel that gives no quarter and is willing to use every tactic to delay, discourage and demonize.”
In recent years, EPA has been the subject of a number of high profile discrimination complaints and EPA employees agitated for the enactment of a law called the “No Fear Act” to make how federal agencies handle discrimination complaints more transparent.