Lawmaker Accuses State Department of Tolerating Abusive Executives

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited years of “multiple complaints.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited years of “multiple complaints.” Alex Brandon / AP

Citing multiple whistleblower complaints, a House Democrat has accused the State Department of a lax response to accusations that at least one senior executive has created a hostile work environment in violation of equal opportunity rules.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in a Jan. 22 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, cited years of “multiple complaints,” including some addressed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about State’s policies on how senior executives are evaluated in their duty to ensure “equality of opportunity” for all employees.

In one case in particular, wrote the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, several career employees have raised “serious allegations that the department has repeatedly failed to eliminate the hostile work environment created by a member of the SES.”

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This individual, whose name is apparently in the letter but redacted in the released version, has a “long history of brutalizing female and minority staff” and “creates a climate of fear.”

The complaints mention “daily humiliation and denigration,” cite “unwarranted accusations of poor performance” and document “denied resources to perform our job,” the letter said.

Despite a history that includes a number of complaints and settlements, the department has taken “little action,” wrote Cummings, with a copy to panel chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. “The number of employees who have raised allegations about this individual is striking, and the severity of the emotional distress and career harms they report is profoundly troubling.”

He cited the EEOC’s Management Directive 715, which has standards for holding managers accountable for ensuring workplace equality.

Cummings said he is seeking, by Feb. 1, an itemized list of each informal and formal complaint, to EEOC and to others (with redactions of personally identifiable information), as well as dates, bases for complaint, findings and any settlements.

Finally, he asked for “the number of senior executives against whom more than one informal or formal complaint has been filed with the Department of State at any time during the past five years.”

The State Department press office could not reply to inquiries on Monday due to the government shutdown. 

The Senior Executives Association could not comment on the specifics of the case. Generally, though, the group "strongly supports a workplace that is free of intimidation, retaliation and harassment," said President Bill Valdez, in a statement to Government Executive. "Whistleblower protections are an important tool that career staff can utilize to ensure that their workplace is free of intimidation and we highly encourage all civil servants to make use of that tool when appropriate. I know that in my time in government I encouraged all staff to take their concerns to the appropriate official, whether it was the agency whistleblower office, Ombudsman, EEO officials or other officials who are trained to handle these kinds of situations."

This story has been updated with comment from the Senior Executives Association

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