A 23-year-old black college graduate who applied for a receptionist's job at the office of Rep. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.) said this week that he was turned away by an office staffer who said, in the course of a brief job interview, "we don't have too many colored folks in North Dakota."
Addison Shepard said he arrived at the office for his interview on the morning of July 27 and was greeted by Dorothy Gwinn, one of Andrews' aides. Gwinn looked at his resume, Shepard said, then told him he seemed overqualified and that all office personnel came from North Dakota.
"Then she looked me in the eye and said: 'To be perfectly honest with you, we don't have too many colored folks in North Dakota," Shepard recalled in an interview Wednesday.
"I don't see how my color has anything to do with my ability," Shepard said. "I think race was at least part of the reason (that he failed to get the job.) My being black and my not being from North Dakota knocked me right out of the ballpark."
Asked about Shepard's recollection of her remark, Gwinn yesterday agreed, "I probably did say something to that effect." Shepard was not considered a likely candidate for the job "primarily because he was not from North Dakota and he was way over qualified for a receptionist's job," she said.
Gwinn, who has worked for Rep. Andrews on Capitol Hill for more than 18 years, added: "We've never had anyone on our staff who was not from North Dakota."
Andrews later confirmed this. "The qualification (for an applicant) is not the color of skin he said. "The qualification is whether someone is from North Dakota."
Andrews, who is the only congressman from the large northwestern plains state, said he preferred to select his staff from North Dakota because many constituents "feel more comfortable" dealing with someone who knows the area.
"It just helps having someone from the state," he said.
Andrews also pointed out that at least one black, one Eskimo and several Indians have worked as interns on his staff.
Shortly after his interview in Andrews' office, which had been arranged by the Washington-based American Personnel Services employment agency, Shepard was offered and accepted a $10,800-a-year job as a purchasing clerk at a local engineering consulting firm.
Nevertheless the interview with Gwinn, Shepard said, "ticked me off." The Westfield, N.J., native, who has a bachelor's degree in political science from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., said he came to Washington to look for a job because he had been unemployed for three months and had friends in Washington who urged him to seek a job here.
Almost all congressional offices are specifically exempted from the antidiscrimination legislation enacted by Congress in the last 20 years.
However, after revelations several years ago about some members of Congress giving specific racial and sexual specifications when they asked the Congressional Placement Office to fill jobs in their offices, the placement office revised its procedures.
Now, congressmen may specify only that they prefer to hire someone from the district. The only other specifications allowed are job-related -- for instance, typing skills.
In a 5-4 vote last June, the Supreme Court ruled that congressmen, like other employers, may be sued by an employee who contends that his constitutional rights have been violated.