Printing Office Hit With Discrimination Suit

Posted December 2, 2009 at 6:12pm

A recently filed lawsuit claims the Government Printing Office repeatedly denied promotions to a longtime employee because of his race, joining a handful of discrimination lawsuits and dozens of internal complaints against the agency.

Melvin Eley Jr. has worked at the GPO for 38 years, moving up the ladder as the agency went through significant technological transformations. Eley, who is black, is now the director of the End User Support Division, managing a team of 22 employees who maintain and implement software.

In 2008, he hoped to jump into a Senior Level Service position, which is the top level of management at the GPO. Though he met the qualifications, he didn’t get the job — a result, he claims, of the agency’s discriminatory practices.

“The hiring panel used broad and inaccurate language to explain why Mr. Eley was not selected, citing a lack of current technical expertise and understanding of emerging technologies,— the lawsuit states, adding that one panel member inaccurately wrote on Eley’s résumé that he has no experience with the Linux operating system. “In fact, Mr. Eley installed and tested experimental Linux systems at GPO and had operated Linux in his home for several years.—

Eley’s case joins four other discrimination lawsuits pending against the agency. Though that number is not high for a large government agency, Members expressed concern earlier this year that the GPO had a rising number of internal discrimination complaints and now require the agency to submit quarterly reports on the issue.

In fiscal 2009, 84 formal complaints were filed. That number was 45 in fiscal 2008, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Web site.

GPO spokesman Gary Somerset declined to comment on Eley’s case because it is a “pending legal matter.— But he emphasized that so far this fiscal year, the number of complaints are down; six formal complaints have been filed so far, he said, compared with 27 during the same period in fiscal 2009.

Furthermore, he said that 37 of the 84 complaints filed in 2009 came from employees in “one small unit— of the GPO.

“The Public Printer has made diversity a top priority,— he said in an e-mail, “and has instituted training and awareness to ensure employment discrimination does not take place and that all employees are aware of their right to work in a discriminatory and harassment free work environment.—

In the past decade, the GPO has quickly moved into the technological era, shifting employees from the printing press floor to computer screens. An uptick of discrimination complaints has followed the agency through its transformation.

Eley has filed at least two complaints in his years at the agency, according to his lawsuit. One led to the current lawsuit. He filed another complaint after he was denied a promotion in 2001; he settled in 2003, receiving an information technology specialist position as part of the deal.

The lawsuit also lists several promotions GPO officials denied Eley over the years. In many, Chief Information Officer Michael Wash presided over the selection. The lawsuit claims he has never hired an African-American for an SLS position “even though approximately 39 percent of [Information Technology and Systems Department] employees are African-American.—

In the most recent case, Eley claims he was more qualified for the SLS position than the only other candidate, who is white. Eley’s attorney, Brian Wolfman, declined to elaborate, only saying that Eley was “eminently more qualified.—

The Institute for Public Representation at the Georgetown University Law Center, where Wolfman works, is also representing Kevin Hairston, a 20-year GPO employee who is also suing the agency for racial discrimination after being denied a promotion.