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Black Secret Service Agents Claim Race Bias

By Bill Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2000; Page A02

A group of black Secret Service agents is asking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to give them the right to file a class action lawsuit that alleges they were denied promotions and key assignments because of pervasive racial discrimination.

The agents and their lawyers intend to outline their allegations at a news conference here today. If the EEOC gives the go-ahead, they soon could pursue their job-related grievances on behalf of all black agents in U.S. District Court. The agents took their first procedural step late yesterday afternoon by formally filing their complaint with the Treasury Department's equal employment opportunity program.

The Secret Service, responsible for protecting the president and vice president, could become the third major federal law enforcement agency to have its practices scrutinized in a court fight. During the 1990s, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms settled similar class action discrimination cases. Both agencies signed agreements to reform their promotion and disciplinary procedures.

The black Secret Service agents contend they largely have been kept out of management jobs in the predominantly white agency. They have held a variety of positions in the Secret Service, including presidential details. Their attorneys, John P. Relman and David J. Shaffer, declined to discuss the case yesterday, saying they would do so today.

Both have extensive experience in discrimination matters. Relman represented six black Secret Service officers in what became a class action suit alleging discrimination against black customers at Denny's restaurants, and Shaffer worked on the FBI and ATF discrimination suits. The Denny's case generated a $54 million settlement.

Secret Service officials expressed surprise at the discrimination complaint, which will go to an EEOC administrative judge for review. The agency has more than 2,500 agents, including roughly 220 African Americans. Two of its seven assistant directors are black, as are four of the heads of the agency's 11 largest field offices, in San Francisco, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, officials said.

"The Secret Service takes very seriously any allegations of racial discrimination or lack of equity," said Jim Mackin, a spokesman. "We're actively engaged in ensuring a diverse work environment and ensuring equal opportunities are afforded to everyone."

Mackin said he had not seen the complaint and declined to discuss specifics.

One of the agency's most prominent assistant directors, Larry Cockell, is an African American who once headed President Clinton's protection detail. Mackin said that Cockell, who now oversees training, is not among those pursuing a lawsuit.

An EEOC official said an administrative judge will review the complaint and determine if it meets criteria for a class action suit. Among other things, the administrative judge will look at the number of potential plaintiffs, common themes in their complaint, and the ability of the lawyers on the case to represent the entire class in court.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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