EEO procedures described as flawed


June 02, 1993|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Some federal employees told U.S. senators at a hearing last week said that discrimination and sexual harassment on the job often go unpunished and that reform of equal employment opportunity procedures is desperately needed.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski also testified at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in support of a bill she co-sponsored that would transfer handling of all EEO complaints to an independent agency. Currently, employees are investigated by their own agency, which sometimes results in retaliatory actions such as demotion, firing or other types of harassment, Ms. Mikulski said.

"If you talk to victims of abuse the way I have, they will tell you they are often doubly victimized, by both the event in which they are abused and then subsequently by the way the system treats them," she said.

Ms. Mikulski said the Federal Employee Fairness Act, which she has co-sponsored with 13 other senators, "is designed to fix the complaint system. . . ."

Under the bill, victims would be allowed 180 days to file the initial complaint rather than the current 30 days; a limit would be placed on the time for a complaint to be processed -- a procedure which in some agencies now averages three years -- essentially speeding up handling of a complaint; and tough sanctions would be imposed against a supervisor or co-worker who is found guilty of discrimination.

One witness, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said she sought a transfer from Chicago to Ellicott City, Md., because she feared for her life and that of her 6-year-old daughter after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.

In a January appearance on the television program "60 Minutes," the agent, Sandra I. Hernandez, told of being subjected to unwanted grabbing, kissing and lewd comments for 2 1/2 years from her supervisor, who also was her EEO counselor.

She did not file a complaint, she said, because the supervisor threatened to fire her, and as a single parent, she "desperately needed the income" to support her young child.

Ms. Hernandez said she eventually was hospitalized with emotional problems, including anorexia nervosa. After her release from the hospital, she was transferred to another division and demoted to a clerical job, she said. Eventually she complained to the Office of Internal Affairs, which disclosed her confidential statement to the supervisor and others, she said.

"I have since heard about other women [there] who have been sexually harassed, but they won't file a report because they saw how my life was ruined," Ms. Hernandez said.

FBI Special Agent Suzane Doucette told the committee that her supervisor once grabbed her in a choke hold and fondled her until she fought him off. The supervisor told her afterward that he had been charged previously with discrimination but had gone unpunished.

"He made it clear to me that he controlled my destiny," she said. "He told me he could prevent the transfer of my husband, also an FBI agent, to my office of assignment."

Ms. Doucette was then working in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband was in New York, she said.

Before giving their testimony, Ms. Doucette and Marilyn Hudson, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Tennessee, read disclaimers stating that their comments did not represent the views of the Justice Department, for whom they work. Their superiors had required them to read the statements, they said.

Both women also said that their superiors had required copies of their testimony in advance, although they did not attempt to prevent them from testifying.

Another witness, Diana Miller, a civil engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, began crying as she described how her supervisor invited her into his hotel room under false pretenses during a business trip and attacked her.

Despite the fact that Ms. Miller's supervisor admitted attacking her, she said she was discouraged from filing an EEO complaint. When she eventually did so, she said she was "misguided and misled" by her EEO counselor, who omitted important information from the report and used delaying tactics that caused Miss Miller to miss procedural deadlines.

Ms. Miller, a divorcee with two small children, was diagnosed with traumatic stress disorder, but her agency refused to grant her leave, she said.

In informal findings, the case was decided in her favor, she said, but her agency refuses to transfer her unless she drops her EEO complaint and worker compensation claim, absolves the agency wrongdoing and pays all of her own medical and legal fees.

In a more positive note at the hearing, the General Accounting Office reported that women and minorities are moving up in the federal bureaucracy.

Nancy Kingsbury of the General Accounting Office testified that the number of women and minorities in jobs that are "gateways" to middle- and upper-level management positions increased 34 percent relative to the number of white men between 1984 and 1990.

The number of white women and men of color in those jobs rose 22 percent compared with white men, Ms. Kingsbury said, citing a March report by the GAO, a government watchdog agency.

However, women and ethnic minorities still are underrepresented in upper grades -- GS-11 and above -- which pay at least $33,623 a year, she said.

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