The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced last week that retaliation is the most common allegation of discrimination in federal employment.
What the commission’s news release didn’t announce was the government’s champion of retaliation — the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
It’s no secret that jailhouse thugs retaliate against other inmates who are considered snitches. But who knew that BOP’s management allegedly engaged in rampant retaliation against employees who dare to complain about discrimination in the agency?
The EEOC knows because it took the unusual step of surveying all 35,000 BOP employees. That led to three findings:
l“There is widespread fear of retaliation among BOP employees.”
l“BOP employees lack confidence in BOP’s EEO program.”
l“BOP employees are unfamiliar with the EEO process and their rights.”
The report said “each of these findings is inextricably intertwined with the other, as fear, lack of confidence and lack of knowledge each affects the very core of BOP’s EEO program.”
EEOC officials decided to send questionnaires to all BOP employees after receiving reports suggesting that “BOP employees have an unusually heightened fear of retaliation,” according to a report the EEOC issued in November.
That’s an unusual level of fear compared with other federal agencies. According to the report, almost two-thirds of fiscal 2003 EEO complaints at the Bureau of Prisons included allegations of retaliation, compared with 40 percent government-wide. By 2007, the gap had narrowed to 47.5 percent for BOP and 42.5 percent government-wide, but employees and union officials say the problem remains.
“Not only do correctional workers face life threatening situations on a daily basis, but they are facing retaliation from managers should they choose to file an EEO complaint in the system,” Michael Castelle Sr., national fair practices coordinator for the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, said in a statement this week. “BOP management has done the bare minimum to address this issue.”
The agency said in a statement that it takes the EEOC findings “very seriously and is committed to providing a diverse and equitable workplace for all employees.” BOP complained that after the initial survey, EEOC officials went to just three facilities, where they interviewed too few employees, who were not randomly selected.
The EEOC stood by its methodology and said: “The vast majority of BOP non-supervisory employees interviewed reported an atmosphere of overall retaliation by management. Multiple employees stated that employees who engage in the EEO process or report discrimination are viewed as troublemakers.”
If the number of follow-up interviews was too small — and I doubt a statistician would agree with BOP’s defensive posture on that point — it might be because some folks were afraid to talk to commission officials, given the prison bureau’s reputation for retaliation.
“One employee stated that it was surprising that anyone was willing to speak with the OFO [the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations] representatives at all. Employees felt that eventually everyone would know who participated in the OFO interviews and that these participants would suffer retaliation. Another employee stated that other employees were unwilling to speak with OFO representatives because they would be put on ‘the list’ and risk retaliation,” the EEOC report says.
One BOP manager told the EEOC that “the warden had reported during a management meeting that he had a list of everyone who was going to speak to the OFO evaluation team.”
The report includes other comments from employees who understandably are not named:
l “I felt very isolated when I filed my complaint. . . . People treat you as if you are taboo.
Employees are afraid to associate with you.”
l “Administrative staff will hold a grudge and take things personally if the EEO process is used.”
l “Once you file a complaint management will immediately punish you.”
l “We have bred a culture of retaliation. . . . [T]he culture here . . . is that if you accuse someone of [discrimination], you will be retaliated against. So people take the heat and deal with [discrimination] personally, they don’t report it. The staff knows that they will be retaliated against. So why bother?”
The BOP statement said it has implemented some of the changes recommended by EEOC, including having full-time, instead of part-time, equal employment counselors stationed at facilities across the country; holding specialized equal employment training programs for managers; and making BOP’s equal employment director report directly to the agency’s head.
Castelle has a different view. He said “little has been done” since November.
“Retaliation and harassment toward those who participate in the agency EEO process has not diminished since the issuance of the EEOC report,” he said. “Managers that discriminate at the Bureau of Prisons do so with complete impunity.”
On one point, he agrees with the BOP statement: “If even one employee fears retaliation, that is one too many.”
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