EEOC Finds Gender Discrimination at DEA

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held that a class of female special agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) established by a preponderance of evidence that the agency regularly and purposefully treated female agents less favorably than male agents. Garcia et. al. v. Dep't of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120122033 (June 7, 2013).

The class consisted of approximately 64 female agents who were denied foreign assignments between 1990 and 1992. The class representative was a GS-13 special agent in the agency's Denver field office. From 1990 to 1992, she submitted 17 applications for foreign assignments, and with only one exception, male special agents were selected for each one of those posts. The class presented statistical evidence which showed that during the class period, there was a pattern of females being non-selected for foreign positions, and a clear trend where male agents were more successful at obtaining foreign positions than female agents. The commission concluded that female special agents at the GS-11, 12 and 13 levels who applied for foreign positions were disparately impacted by the agency's hiring practices.

The record indicates that the disparate treatment, in part, was due to widespread belief among agency managers and staff that females would not be as effective as males in countries considered by agency to be hostile to women. One class member's supervisor repeatedly told her not to get upset if she was not selected for Asian positions because they were "male dominated cultures" and the agency did not select female special agents for those positions. Substantial anecdotal evidence in the record also reflects that this bias against female agents in foreign positions was widespread in the agency, and that female agent applicants were frequently asked questions about childcare and pregnancies that were not similarly asked of male applicants.

The class representative was repeatedly scrutinized by supervisors concerning her husband's willingness to travel with her overseas, although the male special agent who was selected for one of the positions she applied for was not asked whether his wife was willing to move with him overseas. When one class member told her supervisors about her desire to work overseas, he responded that although she was an excellent agent, "the best female agent was not equivalent to the worst male agent."

No evidence on the record existed which would establish that the agency provided an articulation as to why it did not select qualified female special agents for foreign positions. Additionally, the agency did not provide an explanation for why it only interrogated female applicants about matters such as their childcare arrangements and pregnancies, and why it focused more heavily on whether female applicants' husbands could adjust to a role as an overseas spouse.

The commission awarded the class representative compensatory damages of $150,000, attorney fees and costs of over $1,000,000, and a retroactive promotion with back pay, benefits and interest. The commission also ordered mandatory EEO training for all relevant management officials identified in the class representative's complaint and recommended that DEA consider disciplinary action against those individuals. This long-awaited decision remedies widespread gender discrimination at DEA which occurred over a decade ago, and the remaining class members now have the right to file claims for relief with the agency.