EPA to investigate alleged discrimination

The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general plans to investigate an employee's charges that she was discriminated against when she was asked to clean a toilet in preparation for a visit by agency Administrator Carol M. Browner.

EPA employees held a press conference Wednesday in Washington alleging widespread discrimination at the agency. At the conference, Anita Nickens, an EPA environment specialist, said she was singled out by her supervisor during a 1993 business trip to North Carolina and asked to clean a toilet before Browner's arrival. Nickens was the only black employee on the trip.

David Cohen, a spokesman for the EPA, said yesterday's press conference was the first time the agency had heard about the incident. He said Browner was "appalled" by the allegation and is calling for an IG investigation into the matter.

Cohen said Nickens did not file a formal complaint with the agency when the alleged incident occurred in 1993.

"We have heard similar stories of rampant discrimination from people throughout government," said Rawle King, national legislative director for Blacks in Government, referring to Nickens' allegation. "This pattern and practice of discrimination within the agency is certainly known by the management, and still nothing has been done."

The EPA has had about the same number of discrimination complaints filed against it as any other agency in the past eight years, Cohen said, but emphasized that even one allegation is too many.

In August, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a black senior manager at the EPA, won a $600,000 verdict in a race and sex discrimination suit against the agency.

Cohen said that during Browner's tenure, the percentage of minorities serving as senior managers at EPA has risen from 19 percent to 30 percent, while the percentage of women in the senior ranks climbed from 20 percent to 30 percent.

"Browner has made a real commitment toward ensuring fairness and equal opportunity in the workplace," said Cohen.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 116 EEO complaints were filed against EPA in fiscal 1998. In fiscal 1999, the number dropped to 78. During the same period, the total number of EPA employees rose slightly, from 18,041 to 18,121.

EPA employees at Wednesday's event plan to file a class-action lawsuit against the agency.

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