More Secret Service agents join discrimination suit

More black Secret Service agents joined a year-old lawsuit last week alleging discrimination and unfair promotion practices at the agency. Nineteen current and former agents joined 38 others in a lawsuit against the Secret Service, accusing their colleagues of using racial slurs when referring to African-Americans and subjecting them to a racially hostile environment. The lawsuit, filed in February 2000, alleges that black agents have consistently been denied promotions despite their qualifications. Jim Mackin, a spokesman for the Secret Service, which is part of the Treasury Department, said the agency has "zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind." "Any allegation of discrimination, whether it was 20 years ago or 20 days ago, is troubling," Mackin said. He added that if the allegations of discrimination and unfair promotion practices prove true, it would be "abhorrent." The 19 new plaintiffs in the case against the Secret Service bring the total number to 57. There are 2,766 agents in the Secret Service, 233 of whom are black, according to the agency. Although Mackin did not have statistics on promotions for minorities in the past few years, he said that two of the agency's seven assistant directors are black, and that of the agency's 11 field offices, seven are headed by minorities, four of whom are black. All Secret Service employees are required to attend diversity conferences during their tenure at the agency. Mackin said blacks and other minorities sit on a promotion panel at the agency and have "equal participation" in the promotion selection process. The lawsuit against the Secret Service is one in a series of recent high-profile cases against federal law enforcement agencies involving allegations of discrimination. In April, a federal judge approved a settlement between the FBI and black agents who had accused the agency of discrimination and unfair promotion practices. Similar lawsuits have been filed over the past decade against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The House Judiciary Committee last week approved a bill (H.R. 169) that would hold agencies more accountable for acts of discrimination against their employees.
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