Anti-discrimination bill ready for president’s signature

Congress sent President Bush a bill Tuesday that would make federal agencies more accountable for discrimination and retaliation against employees.

The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2001 (No FEAR) would require agencies that lose or settle discrimination and whistleblower cases to pay judgments out of their own budgets. Those payments are currently paid out of a general government fund.

The House unanimously passed the bill (H.R. 169) in October, and the Senate approved the legislation with minor changes last week. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation, said a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee.

"The federal government must be the role model for civil rights-not for civil rights violations," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill. "For far too long there has been little accountability when federal agencies discriminate and retaliate against their employees and that is about to change with the enactment of the No FEAR bill."

Allegations of discrimination at the Environmental Protection Agency prompted the No FEAR bill, which Sensenbrenner and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced in October 2000. In August 2000, a black senior manager at the EPA won a $600,000 verdict in a race and sex discrimination suit against the agency. During an October 2000 hearing before the House Science Committee, then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner and other agency officials vigorously defended the EPA's commitment to diversity.

Under the proposed law, agencies would be required to make employees aware of discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. The bill would also require each agency to file an annual report detailing the number of discrimination or whistleblower cases filed with it, how the cases were resolved, the amount of settlements and the number of agency employees disciplined for discrimination or harassment.

In March, the Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of federal employees staged a rally on Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to urge Senate passage of the bill.

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