USDA Accused of Widespread Racial and Sex Discrimination

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been charged with racial and/or sexual discrimination in five current or proposed class action lawsuits. In addition, more that 1,500 individual discrimination complaints are currently pending.

Among the current complaints include allegations that graffiti in a USDA bathroom included the words “now apes are called people” written beneath the acronym NAACP, which stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Black and Hispanic employees charged that their largely-white supervisors have repeatedly assigned them low-level tasks, denying them the training and experience needed to gain promotions. Many of those same employees also charged that less-qualified whites were frequently promoted ahead of them.

Forest Service firefighter Ginelle O’Connor, 42, alleges that her male colleagues “were making bets on how they could get rid of me” and continually attacked her with sexually-derogative insults and taunts. O’Connor said that male colleagues were so eager to see her quit her job that they threatened her with rape.

Ninety-one percent of the USDA’s senior management positions are held by whites, and 80% of the USDA’s most highly-paid employees are men. The USDA has agreed to pay some sort of settlement in over 1,000 of 1,800 discrimination cases considered during the last two years.


Washington Post - April 20, 1999

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