Interior Department still has a way to go on the diversity front

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an
Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an "Inclusive Workplace Statement." (Aaron M. Sprecher - Bloomberg)
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By Joe Davidson
Thursday, August 26, 2010

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an "Inclusive Workplace Statement" to his employees last week, there was little indication of the pressure his department has been under on the diversity front.

Last month, an administrative judge ruled against the department in a discrimination case, finding that a supervisor called African American subordinates "monkeys." In June, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a scathing report on the department's Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the agency's equal employment opportunity program was largely dysfunctional and violated federal regulations. Also in June, Interior's Blacks in Government chapter told Salazar that the department did not show evidence that it is committed to "fair policies, excellent practices and high standards."

Salazar has taken notice.

"Supervisors and managers are expected to be role models who exhibit behaviors of inclusion, acceptance and accountability. All employees are expected to adhere to our guiding principles of integrity, fairness, trust, ethical and legal behavior, and zero tolerance for discrimination," his statement said.

He appointed John Burden to the position of chief diversity officer. "Please join me," Salazar said, "in making the department the best place to work in America."

It's not there yet.

Consider the decision by Richard W. Furcolo, the administrative judge in the discrimination case. He said Craig Littlejohn, the white chief information officer in the department's solicitor's office, called staffers "monkeys" and improperly interfered with the selection process for a job sought by Adam Pierre, a black man. The judge said Pierre was significantly better qualified than the person given the job.

Furcolo ordered Interior to retroactively place Pierre in the position of supervisory IT specialist and pay him $100,000 in damages, plus legal fees.

The judge said Littlejohn's admitted monkey comment "was intentional, deliberate and simply deplorable." According to Furcolo, "Littlejohn's discriminatory animus toward the African American employees he supervised is palpable. He is on record as commenting that, in his opinion, they -- as a group -- were not skillful and were incompetent."

The department is appealing Furcolo's order and has refused to implement it. "The EEOC administrative judge's ruling is seriously flawed both factually and legally," said Kendra Barkoff, an Interior spokeswoman. She would not comment on the details of the case. Attempts to reach Littlejohn for comment were not successful.

Kim Lambert, the BIG chapter president, said Littlejohn was "not disciplined in any way."

The racism Furcolo found in Littlejohn focused on one man, but the problems that the EEOC found with the Fish and Wildlife Service are widespread and systemic.

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