As shared in 17 Steps: A Federal Employee's Guide For Tackling Workplace Discrimination, it is vital for people choosing a federal government career to enter the workplace with their eyes wide open. With close to 2.5 million employees, the nation's largest employer may strive to serve as a model employer for promoting Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), yet it remains one of the biggest violators of anti-discrimination laws.
Despite the Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (the No Fear Act), and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) of 2012, federal officials keep engaging in unlawful civil-rights violations. As a result, each year thousands of civil servants file complaints against federal managers and supervisors. In 2018, various news outlets covered the toxic culture operating in the federal sector. The PBS News Hour reported on the rape, harassment, and the culture of retaliation in the Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service. KSDK "5 On Your Side" I-Team reported on the National Geospatial Agency's admitted long-standing racial discrimination against black employees. CNN reported on the persistent sexual harassment at the State Department and the National Public Radio (NPR) reported on the culture of fear and retaliation entrenched within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector." The U.S. Postal Service's (USPS) fiscal year 2018 No FEAR statistics reveal that of the 4,095 complaints filed against the USPS, nearly half (2,060) were complaints filed by employees reporting retaliation. Retaliation, also known as reprisal, occurs when an employer punishes an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. Retaliation can include any negative job action, such as suspension, demotion, discipline, or termination.
To glean insight on the government's retaliatory culture, look to the case of Robert MacLean. In 2006, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) fired MacLean, who had served as an air marshal. TSA removed MacLean from the federal service after finding that he "blew the whistle" and alerted the press about air flight-safety concerns. MacLean, who held concerns about a post-911 terrorist-hijacking plot, challenged his firing. He took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court (Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, Case 13-894). In 2015, nearly a decade later, the Court sided with MacLean and he won his job back. Nevertheless, in March of this year, TSA fired MacLean for a second time.
Hence, those seeking a career in the federal sector should know that all kinds of supervisors loom in the government. Some are committed leaders who foster fair treatment and high levels of employee engagement. Some are abusive managers with a savory appetite for revenge. Therefore, if you are a person guided by integrity and you choose the public-sector path enter the arena with your eyes wide open. After all, harassment, discrimination, and subsequent retaliation for speaking out can happen to anyone, at any time, in any government agency. Before facing unfair treatment in the workplace make learning your legal rights and your redress options a top priority.