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Blowing the Whistle on Racism at the

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

Lead agent Janet Howard gives remarks during press conference                                                                                           while Tanya Ward Jordan holds bullhorn.

 

On October 5, 2005, a group of Department of Commerce (DoC) employees filed a $500 million dollar lawsuit in United States District Court against the Department.  The class action is represented by the law firm of Sanford, Wittels and Heisler, LLP.  The multi-million dollar lawsuit (Janet Howard, et. al vs. Carlos M. Gutierrez, Secretary United States Department of  Commerce) accuses DoC of historically using bias practices to disenfranchise African-American employees from job opportunities.  “No amount of money”, says lead Class agent Janet Howard,  "can truly compensate the thousands of qualified African-American employees who suffer mentally, physically and financially from years of oppressive, discriminatory and retaliatory departmental  practices.”  Class agents, Joyce E. Megginson and Tanya Ward Jordan, echo Ms. Howard’s sentiment.  Howard, Megginson, and Ward Jordan, bonded after being subjected to Commerce bias employment practices.    Even though, the class agents work for three different agencies within DoC, each class agent has been subjected to reprisal for exposing  Commerce’s  racially hostile work environment.  Each class agent has been victimized by DoC’s personnel policies that have set in place a pervasive pattern and practice of race discrimination. 

 

Janet Howard is an Export Specialist who works for DoC’s Bureau of Industry Security.  She has worked for Commerce for over 23 years.  Ms. Howard initially filed a claim of discrimination in 1995 naming her supervisor Thomas Andrukonis as a discriminating official.   After hearing numerous African-American employees pour out their experiences about Commerce’s racially tainted hiring and promotion practices, Ms. Howard converted her individual complaint into a class complaint. Through the class, Howard hoped to see policy changes within DoC that will address the needs of African-American employees who, like herself, had been denied fair ratings, pay, awards and promotions.  The class action claim was filed formally in February 22, 1995. It languished for ten (10) years in the administrative process.  Now we are in court.”  says Ms. Howard with conviction.  Now the  public will learn how Commerce, the premier Department charged with promoting National economic growth continues to severely stunt economic growth of African Americans in this country.  The resounding voice of another white supervisor is forever embedded in Ms. Howard’s memory.  Each time she is denied career advancement she is reminded of him telling her ~ “that certain jobs are traditionally reserved for white males” .   She is also reminded of that same manager telling a white employee, “You are tall and blonde, you will do well here.”  Such statements fuel her fight for justice at Commerce.

Being a whistleblower has severe consequences.  When you are a Black whistleblower at Commerce those consequences seem limitless.” declared Howard, who was forced to sit in the Library for almost two years when the DoC failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations.  Not soon after Howard blew the whistle on DoC’s inconsistent application of its disability and  telework program, more retaliation followed her.    According to court records filed by the former DoC medical doctor, a strategy was conspired to get rid of Janet Howard (lead class agent), by the personnel officials, program officials and the Office of General Counsel.  The medical doctor, a man of integrity, filed a claim against DoC citing he was terminated shortly after refusing to alter his medical report of Ms. Howard. 

According to U.S District Court transcripts, the following occurred:

“In the course of the August 2002 meeting,  Sheppard {Human Resources Representative} stated that management agreed that it had a problem with Ms. Howard and that it was time to develop strategy to handle that problem.   During this August 2002 meeting, Sheppard accused Janet Howard of being the ringleader of a group of people who met in the library and exchanged information about racial discrimination at the DoC.  Sheppard referred to this group as “the library crew”.  Sheppard stated that Ms. Howard needed to be gone.  She added that the library crew would come to an end after Ms. Howard was gone.”

Doc’s General Counsel Directs Doc’s Physician To Change The Medical Report Regarding Ms. Howard.

 Mitch Benowitz of the DoC (OGC) said that DoC’s physician’s letter regarding Ms. Howard’s request for accommodation did not represent the “best interest of the government.”. . . .  “Benowitz explained that he needed DoC’s medical physician to change the letter. . . . .A day or so later, Benowitz  e-mailed DoC’s medical physician the language that Benowitz believed the DoC medical physician should use in his report on Ms. Howard’s request to telecommute. [

Reference U.S. District Court For The District of Columbia Case No. 1:04-cv-01409-PLF and related Case No. 1:04-cv-00756-PLF-AK]

 

Joyce E. Megginson is a Program Analyst with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. She has worked for Commerce for over 36 years.  “The Department of Commerce, which has the historic mission to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce of the United States ~fails miserably at fostering, promoting, and developing a diverse workforce”, says Megginson.   Commerce is responsible for such services spanning from monitoring National Weather Service to conducting the national census. "Undercounting minorities in the census has been a problem for the Department.  It is no surprise,” Megginson asserts, “that a Department that under represents African-Americans in mid to senior management positions  would also undercount minorities in the Census. DoC’s internal policy mirrors DoC’s external practices.   Megginson became a “target” after whistle blowing against DoC racism.  Circa 1996,  Megginson was the only one in her office who had not been given a performance evaluation. After repeatedly asking William Gamble, her white supervisor when he was going to rate her, Gamble called her into his office and said “About your evaluation, I am not ready to do that yet.   By the way, how are those [EEO] complaints you filed against me coming?” Megginson still recalls the sting of his flippant statement.  She still remembers being told the only way she might get promoted is if another fellow colleague were to die ~ in a plane crash.  She also recalls the pain and humiliation of being ordered by another white supervisor to clean the office of a white female, after the white female refused to clean her own office. When she challenged that order, she was told not to look upon it as a cleaning assignment, but rather organizing for the good of the agency since Megginson had great organizational skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tanya Ward Jordan is an Accountant with the Office of the Secretary (OS).  She has worked for Commerce roughly 20 years.  She had served as the Audit Liaison for OS until she filed a complaint against Barbara Retzlaff, Director of Budget.  The complaint, filed in December 2003, alleged that her supervisor (Retzlaff) failed to provide reasonable accommodations.    Ward Jordan regularly handled documents containing information that identified areas of concern to civil rights groups.  She asserts she really got on the  DoC “hit list” after exposing the problems with Commerce’s personnel “pay banding” system.  Early in 1997 Ward Jordan obtained via a Freedom of Information Act  request, reports about the pay banding demonstration project. Pay banding is now permanent at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  After analyzing the reports, she went public about the lack of controls and unfairness in the system.  Ward Jordan later exposed how DoC had disbanded the Department’s  Diversity Council.  The Council, she once served on which both Commerce and Office of Personnel Management officials asserted would monitor the pay banding / personnel demonstration projects to ensure accountability  ~ was abolished.  “Managerial flexibility not accountability is priority at Commerce.” says Jordan.  I suppose that is  why one of my white managers felt at ease  promoting other whites and telling me that I was Black and a woman and that I  can go someplace else to work.”    

          Howard, Megginson and Ward Jordan have made it their mission to expose racism at Commerce; to provide for managerial accountability for wrong doing in the Federal government;  and to provide resources for class action litigants who want to address government fraud,  waste and abuse. Towards this end, they founded the Federal Employee Legal Defense Fund, (FELDF).  The DoC class agents recognize that it will take a pooling of resources to fight Departments like Commerce. For Commerce uses tax payer dollars to litigate complaints  rather than to resolve employee concerns.   Class agents Howard, Megginson and Ward Jordan have petitioned to meet  with Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on three occasions.  They were denied the opportunity to meet with the Secretary to discuss the grave concerns of DoC’s African-American employees.  DoC has no incentive to meet.  Why should they? Afterall they created a slush fund called the “Class Action Suit” project.  This project provides the funding to defend the Department against employees who “blow the whistle” on violations of law.

               To find out more about the race discrimination class action complaint against the U.S. Department of Commerce or to learn more about FELDF visit our website at http://www.FELDF.com.  FELDF is a 501 (3)(C) non-profit organization registered with the Combined Federal Campaign – CFC 7982.