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Obama, Romney: Silent on Significant Domestic Threat -- Bullying in the Federal Workplace

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Tanya Ward Jordan
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As Election Day nears the political rhetoric from President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney rev up. Television ads echo: "I approve this message."  But what message resounds for civil servants bullied in the workplace?"     

Interestingly, even though bullying permeates federal agencies, it has received zero attention from either of the presidential candidates vying for the job, "head of government."  Many civil servants (i.e., analysts, agents, air traffic controllers, marshals, prison guards) endure oppressive behavior daily while performing vital tasks to keep U.S. citizens healthy and secure. To our nation's peril, the workplace harassment of public servants remains unchecked.  As a consequence, it poses a haunting threat to our homeland security.

Each year, thousands of federal employees flock to union offices, personnel offices, and civil rights offices to report injurious managerial acts of abuse, coercion, and cruelty.    Employee allegations reveal that our nation's largest employer, with a workforce of 2.1 million as of June 2012, tolerates -- bullying.  Admittedly, no repository exists to capture the frequency of managerial intimidation.  However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) tells of the harsh unforgiving federal culture that puts our public servants, programs and policies at risk.  

Last year, the EEOC issued a press statement http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/7-6-11.cfm citing concerns with the rise of retaliation complaints in the U.S. government.  "We caution all federal agencies to make sure that reprisals do not become the usual response to complaints of discrimination," said Mr. Dexter Brooks, director of the EEOC's Federal Sector Programs.

Given the United States Government's role to create and enforce laws to ensure order and stability within our society, it is needful to discuss "bullying" and its unswerving presence within federal agencies, particularly within the framework of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) redress system.   In this arena "retaliation" is inextricably linked to "bullying."   Predictably, once an employee files a discrimination complaint-- retaliation occurs.  Although retaliation is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it routinely happens and it almost always involves a supervisor "unjustly" taking some adverse personnel action against the subordinate employee (target) who engaged in the EEO process.  

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Also, once an employee files a complaint, bullying - verbal, physical, or both -- rears its ugly, but not unlawful, head.  It is common for a supervisor to become enraged after being named in an employment complaint.  He or she may engage in (or intensify) oppressive behavior like yelling, cursing, coercing,  criticizing, sabotaging, isolating, excluding,  name-calling, pushing, pulling, striking, monitoring or micro-managing the employee.  

For instance, in the case of James vs. Roche, after a female analyst with the Air National Guard filed a complaint against her supervisor; she was labeled a "terrorist" and a "threat to the nation."   In further reprisal, the agency revoked the civil servants security clearance.  Fittingly, the EEOC found four Air National Guard supervisors guilty of "malicious retaliation." [EEOC No 250-2004-00174X].

In the Matthew Fogg case, one that spanned 25 years over Republican and Democratic administrations, a jury found that the U.S. Marshal Service created a working environment hostile for black deputy marshals.  

A more recent related class action lawsuit, filed by African-American U.S. Marshals, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.   It details the anguish, humiliation and mental harm African- American U.S. Marshals endure as victims of retaliation and institutionalized workplace bullying (Grogan et. al vs. Mukasey Case 1:08-cv-01747-HHK).   

In 2001 U.S. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., introduced the "Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2001" (No FEAR)   to "crack down on discrimination and retaliation at federal agencies."  Notably, the retaliatory culture within government has been a long standing problem from administration to administration.  President George W. Bush signed the No FEAR Act into law on May 15, 2002. Unfortunately, the law fails to "impose mandatory discipline" (i.e. suspension, firing) on public officials guilty of violating the anti-discrimination or whistleblower protection laws.

So, today the United States Government, supports a toxic culture. Bullying intensifies from within most federal agencies including Bureau of Prisons where a female correctional officer proved she was subjected to hostile treatment after filing a complaint against her supervisor, regarded as "Teflon Don"  [Brooks vs. Holder]. Federal officials continue to punish the victim (complainant) and protect the abuser. Anonymity , immunity, professional liability insurance and free legal representation from the U.S. Department of Justice are given freely to managers who engage in wrong-doing.  

As we move forward in 2013, it is my ardent hope for America that whoever assumes the top job as "head of the U.S. government," will institute measures to thwart terrorizing behavior in the workplace; and will commit to holding public officials who break laws, rules and regulations ---accountable.

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Tanya Ward Jordan is the author of 17 STEPS: A Federal Employee's Guide For Tackling Workplace Discrimination. She serves as President and Founder of the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C). C4C is an proactive non-profit self-help organization (more...)

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