order non hybrid seeds LandRightsNFarming: Wash Post Story...A History/Legacy that is Unchanged at USDA to this Day

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wash Post Story...A History/Legacy that is Unchanged at USDA to this Day

Wow,  Notice how the same incidents of violence against women are still occurring. And some of those same women are still in the EEO reprisal complaint system......

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  • Judge Approves USDA Settlement(Post, April 15)

  •   USDA Facing Flood of Worker Bias Suits By Michael A. Fletcher
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, April 20, 1999; Page A1

    Minority and women employees have long complained about what they call a deeply entrenched culture of discrimination at the sprawling federal agency, which is often derided as "the last plantation." The problems have intensified in recent months as more employees have stepped forward with formal complaints, even as top USDA officials have acknowledged longstanding civil rights problems. Earlier this year, the agency agreed to a huge court settlement that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars being paid to thousands of black farmers for past discrimination.
    With a work force of 89,000 and a sweeping mandate that includes administering farm aid programs, managing national forests and running the food stamp program, USDA is one of the federal government's largest departments. With many of its workers deployed in rural outposts, critics charge that USDA's rank-and-file often seems impervious to the civil rights edicts that flow from the agency's Washington headquarters.
    The agency is facing at least five class action or proposed class action complaints, either in federal court or before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where groups of female and minority employees allege that they have been the victims of blatant racial bias or repeated sexual discrimination and harassment. In addition, more than 1,500 individual employment discrimination complaints are pending at USDA. And of the 1,800 cases resolved over the past two years, more than 1,000 ended with settlements, indicating that they had merit, said Rosalind Gray, USDA's director of civil rights.
    Charges lodged against the agency either in lawsuits or individuals' complaints run the gamut:
    In several bathroom stalls at USDA headquarters, someone had scrawled "NAACP" and underneath it, "now apes are called people." Some employees say such graffiti is evidence of workplace hostility that the agency has not done enough to address.
    Black and Hispanic employees complained about working in rural offices under white supervisors who assign them few important tasks or the kind of training that would put them in line for promotions.
    Women such as Ginelle O'Connor, 42, who work as Forest Service firefighters say they were subjected to a never-ending stream of taunts and sexually laced comments and even threats of rape from male colleagues.
    The men "were making bets on how they could get rid of me," said O'Connor, now a USDA biologist working in Northern California. "But I was determined they weren't going to run me off."
    The settlement with the black farmers was part of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman's effort to "change the culture" of the agency. "For far too long USDA has been ignoring serious, pervasive problems within our civil rights system," he said.
    "Clearly, Secretary Glickman is concerned by the number of EEO complaints against USDA," said Tom Amontree, Glickman's spokesman, noting that the department has "resolved the vast majority of the EEO complaints that were part of the so-called backlog."
    Amontree said that Glickman "is impressed with the progress and the changes instituted" under Gray. "Under her leadership, USDA is implementing procedures that will hold people accountable, and the secretary will continue to keep a close eye on that progress"
    Despite Glickman's efforts, the barrage of slights, insults and outright harassment over the years has helped foster a culture that makes many female and minority employees at USDA complain that they feel like outsiders on their own jobs.
    In a case now before the EEOC, a group of 300 African American managers at the Farm Service Agency, the branch of USDA found to have discriminated against black farmers, says they have been repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified whites.
    Charles W. Sims Sr., 55, a program coordinator at USDA's Washington headquarters, says he has been ignored for promotions on more than 40 separate occasions over the past 18 years. "Management will not tell me why they will not hire me for a higher position," said Sims, who says that he was given meaningless assignments after he began filing EEO complaints against the department. "They always tell me that I'm a great employee, so the only thing I can surmise from that is that it is a race thing."
    During his 23 years at USDA, Carnell McAlpine, a program complaint specialist in Alabama, said he has learned to "expect the worst" from his job. He has been passed over for promotions given to whites with less experience and made to feel excluded from the flow of information.
    "Those are the adversities a black person has to deal with," McAlpine said. "You just have to harden yourself. . . . When I've had good things happen to me on the job, I've learned to view them as surprises."
    Harold Connor, 46, deputy director of USDA's Price Support Division, says he has faced insults since his first days at the agency. More than 20 years ago, it was the white local farm committee member who vowed to "go out the back door" the day Connor, who is black, entered the front door as a new director in the St. Louis area. Now that he works in Washington, the insults are often indirect: He was advised not to seek promotions initially because he was too new. Later, he was discouraged by superiors who said he had been in Washington too long and that the agency needed fresh thinking.
    "You just kind of do a slow burn," he said. "First you doubt yourself. But then you realize it is not you, it's them."
    While some employee activists cite USDA as among the worst federal agencies when it comes to civil rights complaints, they point out that charges of racial and gender discrimination are not uncommon within the federal government. That is seen as a troubling reality because for years federal employment was seen as a sure route to the middle class for women and minorities, particularly African Americans. Blacks make up 17.2 percent of the federal work force, compared with only 10.6 percent of the U.S. labor force.
    Groups of minority employees have filed successful class action discrimination complaints against several federal agencies, including the Library of Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department. Suits also are pending at other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Commerce. Black employees also allege bias at the Social Security Administration [Details, Page A21]. Activists call the complaints evidence of the growing civil rights problems within the federal government.
    Many employee activists say that nowhere in the federal government is the problem more pronounced than at the Department of Agriculture, an agency whose roots reach deep into rural America.
    While 20 percent of USDA's employees are minorities, whites hold 91 percent of the senior management positions, a reality that critics call a direct outgrowth of the agency's culture. Some 80 percent of USDA's best-paid employees are men, although women make up more than 40 percent of the work force.
    USDA officials have pointed to enforcement of civil rights laws as a priority in recent years. Since assuming his job in 1995, Secretary Glickman has convened a blue-ribbon panel on the matter, ordered a civil rights review and reactivated the agency's dormant civil rights office. Yet the problem continues to grow.
    The employee complaints are buttressed by the findings of the department's own civil rights task force, which two years ago issued a report that described widespread bias both within the department's work force and in its delivery of programs to the public.
    The report was a key piece of evidence in a federal lawsuit brought by black farmers. The farmers charged that USDA officials unfairly discouraged, delayed or rejected their applications for federal loans. The suit resulted in a settlement that lawyers involved in the case said could cost the federal government as much as $1 billion. A federal judge approved the deal last week.
    Ironically, some USDA officials say privately that Glickman's aggressive rhetoric and work to attack employee complaints – the backlog of unresolved employee discrimination complaints has been cut significantly during his tenure – have opened the agency to more charges of discrimination. Also, top USDA officials say their civil rights efforts have been met with significant resistance.
    "There are some people who don't want their way of life changed," said Gray, who was appointed by Glickman to be the department's lead civil rights enforcer. "Their way of life is based on their local culture, and we have a work force that is spread out throughout the country."
    While acknowledging the hurdles, some activists complain that Glickman has not moved boldly enough. While he has threatened to fire employees found participating in reprisals against those who make discrimination complaints, few have faced such punishment.
    "The secretary is selling snake oil," said Leroy W. Warren Jr., who chaired an NAACP task force that last summer issued a critical report on employment discrimination in the federal government. "It is all good rhetoric. But I'm waiting on the substance."
    Similarly, many of the employees who have brought complaints against the agency say they also are waiting for justice.
    O'Connor, who joined a class action filed by female Forest Service employees, said she faced harassment throughout much of her 17-year tenure at the Forest Service. In 1982, she was the only woman on the Fulton Hot Shots, an elite firefighting brigade that battles blazes in national forests.
    One day, she made her way to the fire camp's bathroom for a shower. She unwittingly dropped her panties on the way from the shower. Hours later, she found her underwear flying on the antennae of a fire engine. Her colleagues drove the truck for a day before removing the underwear.
    For O'Connor and other women at the Forest Service, the incident represented far more than a boorish prank: It was another example of the harrowing sexual harassment and hostility they had to endure.
    Lesa L. Donnelly, a 19-year Forest Service employee and lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said some of the hostility grew out of resentment of a federal court order requiring the Forest Service to hire more women in its western region.
    In the wake of the order, she says, female firefighters were threatened with being pushed into wildfires. They were spit at and hit during physical training. Other women said they were stalked or tormented with dead animals. Some were allegedly left in the woods without transportation.
    The women's class action suit is in mediation and a federal judge in San Francisco has set a May 26 deadline for settlement efforts.
    "We have heard horror story after horror story," said Lawrence Lucas, president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees. "But unless people are held accountable, nothing is going to change at USDA."
    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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