Attkisson: How big is this problem of longstanding backlogs on civil rights complaints?
McCray: It's huge. It's tremendous.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, at his confirmation hearing in 2009, acknowledged there were 3,000 languishing civil rights claims at USDA and promised to change the culture.
"Among the most intractable challenges facing the new Secretary of Agriculture is the intolerable and inexcusable state of civil rights in USDA's agricultural programs and for USDA employees," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
"Discrimination in any form will not be tolerated in this Department," responded Vilsack in the hearing.
But two years after that testimony, Dabney says her situation was tolerated. A Coalition of Minority Employees provided Vilsack with accounts from Dabney and other women and minorities. They even tried writing Mrs. Vilsack, Mrs. Obama and Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett hoping the women might be moved to act. The Coalition says administration officials engaged and promised to help, but the abuses continued.
Just a few months later came what Dabney says was her lowest point with the Forest Service. In August of 2011, she was attending a training conference when she says a supervisor asked to borrow some work supplies at the hotel.
Dabney: So I knock on the door, and he opens it. And he just grabs me in a chokehold and then flings me on the bed. And I'm literally just scared. I didn't know what was he was doin'. And he starts to say, "Alicia, let's just cuddle. Let's you know, let's hang out. Let's be together." And I was like, "I don't, no you're my boss. Please don't do this right now." And he just kept getting tighter and tighter. And I just, you know, started saying, "Please, like please don't do this to me right now." And so I had to talk him down, reminding him, like, "you're my boss. You don't wanna do this to me right now. Please let go of me." And so when I started crying, then he finally, you know, let go of me.
She says she reported the incident to her supervisor and multiple investigative bodies, but suffered more reprisal. It turns out the problems with discrimination complaints go to high levels of the Department of Agriculture. That's according to a recent investigation by a federal watchdog agency, the Office of Special Counsel. It found hundreds of claims filed against senior managers in the very division that's supposed to enforce civil rights laws: the Department of Agriculture Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. What's more, from 2010 to 2013, "81% of complaints filed against USDA senior managers were not acted on in a timely manner."