Commerce Workers File Bias Suit

Hiring and promotions at the Commerce Department are subjective and tainted by racial discrimination, say 13 current and former employees who filed a $500 million class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last week.

The 13 plaintiffs want to represent all black employees who have worked at the department in the past 10 years as well as employees of any race who say they faced retaliation after speaking out against discrimination at the agency. That could be more than 6,000 people.

Dan Nelson, a Commerce spokesman, said the department is "committed to fairness in all matters related to labor and employment, and to nondiscrimination against anyone on the basis of race, sex or national origin."

Plaintiff Janet Howard filed a similar complaint in 1995 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is pending. Howard, an export compliance specialist who has worked for the agency since 1983, said she has routinely been denied promotions as white colleagues have moved up. "Usually the only way you can get promoted is by filing an EEO complaint, and once you file that complaint your career is over," she said.

The employees' lawyer, David W. Sanford, said the goal is to eliminate discrimination at the department and the "culture of fear" it creates. "Everyone has a right to work in an environment free of race discrimination," he said.

Increases to Service Fees Planned

The federal bureaucracy must be fed to stay alive, and one of its favorite dishes is fee increases.

Application fees for immigration services will go up after Oct. 26. The increases will range from $5 more to replace a permanent resident card -- which raises the fee to $190 -- to $20 more to obtain a U.S. visa for a child adopted internationally, which will cost $545. Application fees last increased in April 2004. The Department of Homeland Security said the increases are being imposed to cover inflation.

Paying more to be in the country is only the beginning. Visiting 17 sites in the National Park Service's Intermountain Region will also cost more. Entrance fees are scheduled to go up in 2006 to pay for projects such as construction of restrooms and visitor centers, and maintenance of interpretive programs.

The cost of a week-long vehicle pass at Yellowstone will rise to from $20 to $25. The park's gate fees have not risen in nearly a decade. The increases, expected to take effect in May, are projected to generate about $1 million more annually.

Other increases range from $1 per person for week-long passes in places such as New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument to $50 for annual passes in other areas, according to the Park Service. The Intermountain Region includes parks in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

-- From News Services