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5 things to know about USA TODAY’s investigation of discrimination within EEOC

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/29/2021 Nick Penzenstadler, USA TODAY
a person walking on a sidewalk: Patonia Rhule © Chanel White Patonia Rhule

USA TODAY published an investigation this week about discrimination allegations from employees of the agency charged with routing out workplace discrimination: the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We're continuing to look into the agency.

Here are five key points:

Send us your EEOC story

Are you a current or former EEOC employee? Are you a private employee who filed charges with the EEOC about your employer? We want to hear about your experience and we won't name you unless you say so. Email: eeoc@usatoday.com or contact one of the reporters at the bottom of this story.

  • More than a dozen current and former EEOC employees in the commission’s Dallas office told USA TODAY they had been unfairly passed over for promotions, disciplined, scrutinized, denied training opportunities, given poor evaluations or forced to resign — often under what they call a pretext of lackluster performance.
  • Black employees described being disciplined for things as trivial as parking in the wrong places or addressing corporate attorneys by their first names. Some investigators said they told leaders at the agency’s headquarters about their own allegations of discrimination, but those complaints went nowhere or led to retaliation.
  • Patonia Rhule – a current EEOC investigator – was reprimanded, then suspended, after writing #BlackLivesMatter in an email to 100-plus coworkers. Another investigator, Richard Reinhart, an openly gay Iraq war veteran, was fired days after filing a discrimination complaint with headquarters. 
  • In 2017, Andrew Leonard, another current investigator, asked for time off to receive electroshock therapy to treat major depression, a protected disability under federal law. A manager approved it, records show. But when he returned to work after weeks of recovery, the agency moved to fire him before deciding to instead suspend him without pay for going AWOL. 
  • Internal EEOC data obtained by USA TODAY suggest the Dallas district’s workplace issues have spilled into how it handles investigations of employers on the outside as well. Between 2015 and 2019, Black workers in the area – which includes San Antonio, El Paso and parts of New Mexico – have formally filed more than 7,100 racial discrimination claims with the agency. The district investigated and substantiated the claims in 13 of those cases, or about one in 550. 

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More: ‘Within our own walls.’ Employees at federal civil rights watchdog describe their own workplace discrimination, retaliation in Texas

The EEOC was born out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and is charged with protecting millions across the nation from workplace discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Responding to USA TODAY's findings, Charlotte Burrows – the agency's newly appointed chairwoman – said in a statement: “We take any allegation of workplace misconduct seriously and will investigate each one thoroughly and take disciplinary actions where appropriate.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 5 things to know about USA TODAY’s investigation of discrimination within EEOC

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