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In an effort to curb workplace discrimination within federal offices, President George W. Bush signed the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act on May 15, 2002.
Called the “No Fear” Act, the new law requires offending federal agencies to pay the consequences of their misconduct from their own operating funds. Settlements and judgments are currently paid from a government-wide general fund. Agencies will also be held publicly accountable. Reporting provisions require agencies to compile complaint data quarterly. These reports must be submitted to Congress and posted on agency Websites.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisconsin), chairman, House Committee on the Judiciary, was the driving force behind the No Fear legislation. At a Harvard-MIT conference on workplace discrimination in April 2002, Sensenbrenner said, “No Fear makes the agency responsible to pay for a discrimination settlement out of its own budget. Hit them where it hurts — right in the pocketbook. Let the bad apples know that Uncle Sam doesn’t have an unlimited slush fund to finance their reprehensible actions.”
Some payments may indeed be painful. In May 2002, 120 black scientists and engineers working at NASA flight centers in Maryland and Virginia won a $3.75 million settlement for their class-action job-bias lawsuit against the federal space agency. In January 2002, 2,200 black male employees at the Social Security Administration got a $7.75 million settlement for their Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint about denial of promotions.
One out of every 125 federal workers — a total of 21,868 individuals — filed formal EEOC complaints in the 1999 fiscal year. “Based on the amount of EEOC advisory assistance that we give to people around the country, discrimination is still prevalent in the federal workplace. It’s almost an everyday occurrence,” says Gerald R. Reed, national president of Blacks In Government (BIG), an organization of black federal, state, and local government employees.
Discrimination complaints in the federal government are under reported and underlitigated, according to Lee W. Jackson, a labor and employment law specialist based in Washington, D.C. “Federal government managers have a great deal of power over employees,” he says, pointing out that the possibilities of retaliation against federal government employees have operated for a long time to keep them from filing charges, lawsuits, or even making complaints. “It has been a part of the culture of the federal government.”
This aspect of the government has led to ire on the part of employees and political activists. “They will hire you, but they won’t promote you. They won’t give you any mobility training. They’ll harass you to death. You’ve got managers with half a dozen lawsuits against them. These guys settle the lawsuits, and it’s never on the manager’s records that they paid this money to the plaintiffs to keep quiet about this discriminating manager,” says Leroy W. Warren Jr., chair of the NAACP Federal Sector Task Force.
Jackson believes No Fear will be effective in cutting workplace abuse. To save their own skin, upper management will have to come down hard on lesser managers who put their departments on