House-Backed Bill Would Ramp Up Punishment for Feds Who Discriminate

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is one of the sponsors of the bill. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is one of the sponsors of the bill. Alex Brandon/AP

Federal employees victimized by discrimination would receive stronger protections under a bill agreed to unanimously by the House on Tuesday, while those found to have discriminated would face stronger repercussions.

Equal Employment Opportunity programs would operate independently of any human capital or general counsel offices under the 2017 Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act, and program officials would be tasked with ensuring “efficient and fair resolution of complaints alleging discrimination or retaliation.” The heads of those programs would report directly to their agency chiefs.

Employees found by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to have engaged in discriminatory or retaliatory behavior would have their cases referred to the Office of Special Counsel to initiate a disciplinary action. The measure would modify the 2002 Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act to express the sense of Congress that federal agencies should take disciplinary action against such employees. Agencies would have to post all antidiscrimination adverse actions on their website for at least a year and track complaints from inception to resolution.

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Agencies would have to update personnel records to note any punishment taken against employees related to discrimination offenses. They would also be prohibited from issuing any non-disclosure agreement that prevents employees from reporting wrongdoing.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and now-retired Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who at the time led the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, cosponsored the bill.

The measure would “ensure that federal employees can report discrimination without suffering retaliation and that such reports will be thoroughly, fairly, and timely investigated and adjudicated,” Cummings said when it passed his committee earlier this year.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said the bill was one of many he would support to give federal employees the “workplace protections they deserve.”

“This bill is a tremendous win for our nation’s civil servants, and an important step forward in providing federal employees with equal protections under the law,” Sarbanes said after the House approved the legislation by voice vote on Tuesday.

The 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that 62 percent of federal employees agreed they could disclose a rule or law without fear of reprisal. Cummings authored a similar bill last Congress that the House approved in a 403-0 vote, but it never appeared before the full Senate. 

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