The end is in sight, lawyers say. An administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that investigates claims of workplace discrimination, could soon hear the evidence after years of procedural delay. But employees past and present awaiting the outcome say that any vindication will be tempered by disillusionment over the journey to this moment. Many class members have left the agency. Some are ailing and unable to testify, attorneys said. Others have died.
“It’s a never-ending battle,” said Fogg, now 70. That it’s taken so long is unsurprising, he said, because “the culture of racism is so embedded in America — is so deep.”
In interviews with The Washington Post, 15 current and former Black employees of the Marshals Service detailed allegations of racial bias that undercut career advancement. They say one of the country’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies — tasked with protecting courthouses, transporting prisoners, shielding witnesses and tracking down fugitives — has failed to confront decades of discrimination.
They recounted stories of debilitating stress; needlessly contentious hiring interviews that could end after a single question; job openings suddenly closed after Black people rose to the top of the selection process; and indignation at training White newcomers who quickly became their supervisors. Some estimate they lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. Many remembered White colleagues telling racist jokes or using the n-word to demean fellow employees and prisoners of color, without apparent repercussions.
The Marshals Service declined to answer questions about the class action or its members’ underlying complaints of institutional racism. A spokesman, James P. Stossel, deputy chief of public affairs, said agency policy does not allow officials to speak with the news media about ongoing litigation.
Class members are seeking individual compensation and “systemic relief” — which lawyer Saba Bireda said should start with the Marshals Service vowing to change. “We’re really looking for a new system,” she said.
Responding to a federal discrimination lawsuit that overlapped with Fogg’s case, Justice Department officials in 2012 denied that the Marshals Service has a “long history of continuing discrimination” or that a “good old boy network” is biased against African Americans, court papers from that case show. Officials also argued then that the Marshals Service “took reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct race-based harassment.” The lawsuit was dismissed after lawyers for the plaintiffs said the pending EEOC case covered their claims, and some complainants reached individual settlements with the government, according to court documents.
Critics of the agency’s record on racial equity see an opening for change with the Biden administration’s appointment of a new agency director, Ronald Davis, who as the former executive director of President Barack Obama’s policing task force has denounced deep-rooted racism in law enforcement. Davis is Black, as was his predecessor.
Two current Black employees of the Marshals Service, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of retaliation, said they believe discrimination remains a prob
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