LOC Discrimination Allegations Dismissed

Posted September 24, 2004 at 4:19pm

The Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints Office dismissed allegations of racial discrimination by a group of 800 Library of Congress employees last week, describing many of the claims as “vague” and asserting the group stalled efforts to investigate its complaint.

The complaint’s lead organizer rejected the agency’s explanation, however, and vowed Thursday to pursue the complaint — which alleges wide-ranging discrimination against black employees and other minority groups employed at the institution — in federal court.

The dispute began in late May when Christine Mills, an employee in the Library’s Collections Access, Loan and Management Division, filed a grievance along with two co-workers that later drew hundreds of additional signatures.

The document listed 16 separate allegations, including charges that minority employees are subject to stricter discipline than white employees, denied training, less likely to be considered for promotions or advancement and subject to retaliation for filing complaints.

Following a review by an independent counselor hired to evaluate the complaint, EEO officials issued a letter Sept. 20 to Mills and her adviser, retired LOC employee Howard Cook, dismissing the grievance.

A statement issued by LOC officials last week outlining the EEO decision states that the ruling was based on the “failure of the class to exhaust the administrative remedies provided under the Library’s regulations as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.”

In addition, the document states that “the formal complaint is vague, general and lacks specificity and detail” and asserts that the complainants did not cooperate with an independent counselor assigned to review their case.

“We wanted very much to investigate these allegations and identify appropriate remedies if they were necessary, but our efforts to resolve this complaint were stymied by the class’s failure to cooperate with the EEO counselor’s fact-finding process,” said LOC spokeswoman Jill Brett.

In response, Mills said she was not surprised by the decision, asserting the EEO counselor conducted an inadequate investigation.

“We expected the EEO to basically say that, but the EEO has not done a full investigation,” Mills said, later adding that the counselor “wasn’t asking anything that really made sense. Basically she was trying to interrogate us and intimidate us.”

As of late last week, Mills said that she was seeking legal representation and that she planned to file suit in federal court. Under U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, Mills has 90 days from the date of the dismissal to file an appeal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Brett defended the Library’s career development and training practices, one of the issues raised by Mills and other employees in the complaint.

“The Library has made a big effort with its multiyear affirmative employment program to work with the unions and address these opportunities not only with underrepresented groups but [with] people who want to move on from their jobs,” Brett said. “We really have been working hard to come up with some career development programs and skills enhancement.”

In discussing those efforts, Brett cited the Library’s office of operations management and training, which is focused on designing a new infrastructure for training and skills development for current LOC employees.

The office’s director, Terry Bickham, hired in August, described the planning efforts. “Employees will know what’s needed in their current role, but also what’s needed to go forward,” Bickham said. “They can look at a job they’d like to have in the future and see what the skill requirements are for that.”

In 1995, the Library instituted numerous changes to its hiring and promotion practices under a settlement agreement in Cook v. Billington, a long-running discrimination case that had included more than 2,000 black employees.