- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

Nineteen black Secret Service agents yesterday joined with 38 others in a pending class-action lawsuit accusing the agency of discrimination and of maintaining a "racially hostile work environment."
The agents, including some who have left the Secret Service, added new accusations to the pending lawsuit, saying they frequently were subjected to racial slurs and that white supervisors and agents regularly used a racial epithet in referring to both criminal suspects and black foreign leaders.
The lawsuit is modeled after successful challenges by black FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents during the 1990s. It accuses the Secret Service of failing to promote black agents to management positions despite job performance ratings showing they were qualified for the posts.
It also says black agents were subjected to a pervasive pattern of discrimination involving performance evaluations, transfers, assignments and training; that the agency had engaged in a pattern of racial prejudice; and that promotions were based on friendships, not job qualifications.
The Secret Service has declined to comment on the pending suit, but has said it "takes very seriously any complaint of racial discrimination."
Spokesman Jim Macklin told The Washington Times earlier this year that the agency has "actively engaged in ensuring a diverse work environment and affording equal opportunity to each of our employees."
He said every effort had been made at the agency to assure that minorities are given equal opportunity for promotion and advancement.
Spokesman Marc Connolly added yesterday that "any allegation of racial insensitivity, whether 20 days or 20 years ago, is troubling and, if found to be true, would be considered unacceptable."
He said all reports of discriminatory behavior within the Secret Service are "dealt with immediately."
The lawsuit is pending before U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts.
Earlier this year, the Treasury Department, which oversees the Secret Service, asked Judge Roberts to throw out the suit. The department said the agents had failed to wait the required six months to file the case after lodging a complaint against the agency with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The judge has not yet ruled on the motion.
Of the new plaintiffs:
* Eldridge Armstrong, a current Secret Service agent, said a white agent referred to him as "King Kong" on a trip to Hong Kong, during which he was assigned to guard President Clinton. In court papers, he said the agent later apologized.
* Henry Hooper, who left the agency in 1985 after a 13-year career, said a Secret Service supervisor in Little Rock, Ark., told him not to "make waves" about disparaging remarks made to him by white agents.
* Zandra Flemister, the first black female Secret Service agent who now works for the State Department, said she was "rotated around to different details" to make it appear that the agency was racially diverse.
Washington lawyer David J. Shaffer, who represents the black agents, told reporters yesterday that working conditions for the agents had not improved since he filed the lawsuit in February 2000.
He said there had only been "some cosmetic changes" and "token promotions."
Mr. Shaffer also was involved in the FBI and ATF cases. Another attorney in the case, John P. Relman, represented six black Secret Service agents in a discrimination lawsuit against Dennys restaurants, which was settled in favor of the agents for $54 million.


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