April 27, 2006
Proposed anti-discrimination rule draws fire
By Karen Rutzick
Federal employee minority groups convened a town hall meeting earlier this week to decry recently proposed regulations for implementing a 2002 anti-discrimination law.
The groups said the regulations suggested by the Office of Personnel Management are too weak because they allow federal managers to orally reprimand those who have violated the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act.
“This rule is really an affront to all of us, to think that they would slip under the door a verbal reprimand,” said Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency and one of the driving forces behind the No FEAR Act.
OPM’s Jan. 25 proposed regulations state that the agency is “considering expanding the range of disciplinary actions reported to include unwritten actions such as oral admonishments.”
Oral reprimands are an insufficient response to cases of discrimination, groups participating in the town hall meeting said in a statement.
“The issuance of oral reprimands for civil rights violations is in sharp contrast to the traditional written reprimands or firing for serious offenses,” the statement said. “The OPM proposal would allow managers to escape genuine punishment and send precisely the wrong message of tolerance and no accountability.”
OPM extended the period for comments on the proposed regulations from mid-March to May 1 in response to requests from the No FEAR coalition and members of Congress.
“OPM is seeking input from the public on expanding the definition of discipline to a broader reach, including unwritten actions such as oral reprimands,” said Kathie Whipple, the personnel agency’s acting general counsel, in a statement. “We have provided an extended comment period in part for this reason.”
People wishing to comment are encouraged to e-mail their thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, Whipple said.
Matthew Fogg, a vice president of Blacks in Government, said the regulations backpedal from a victory his group thought it won in 2002. “When the bill passed, we … believed that we were making a difference,” he said.
Fogg said oral reprimands devalue the spirit of this legislation, and also undermine employees’ ability to have a clear paper trail to use if they decide to take legal action.
The No FEAR act requires agencies to keep close tally on the number of civil rights violations.
In a sample letter produced in reaction to the OPM regulations, the No FEAR coalition also said including oral admonishments in this count will make it less credible by misrepresenting “the disciplinary actions taken by agencies and [inflating] the actual number of credible punitive measures used to discourage and eliminate discrimination and retaliation.”
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