The Drug Enforcement Administration must take immediate steps to stop discrimination against female special agents seeking assignments abroad, under a new decision in a long-running class-action lawsuit.
“The record is replete with evidence of rampant discrimination towards female SAs both in the selection process for foreign positions and in the workplace in general,” Carlton Hadden, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Office of Federal Operations, said in the June 7 ruling.
As part of a remedy plan, DEA must identify barriers to female agents within the agency, determine the cause of those barriers and lay out plans to eliminate them, Hadden said. The agency must also provide retroactive promotions and back pay to female agents passed over for foreign postings between 1990 and 1992, along with compensatory damages of up to $300,000 for each.
Michael Kator, an attorney for the plaintiffs, estimated the class size at 200 to 250 active and retired agents. Damages, including back pay, could run into tens of millions of dollars, he said.
But DEA pegs the number at fewer than 100, spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said in an email that described the agency as now dedicated “to promoting an inclusive work environment where individual differences are understood, respected and valued.”
As an example, Dearden pointed to Administrator Michele Leonhart, who started as an entry-level agent in 1980 and now heads the agency. DEA officials, who have 30 days to request reconsideration of Hadden’s decision, are still reviewing it, Dearden said.
As part of its mission to combat illegal drug trafficking, DEA maintains a large foreign footprint, with offices in dozens of countries.
The case dates back to 1993 when Ann Garcia, then a GS-13 agent in DEA’s Denver field office, filed the class discrimination complaint after being passed over for jobs in Thailand, Brazil, Greece and other overseas locations, according to a recounting in Hadden’s ruling.
In one instance, Garcia sought a permanent posting in Curacao after working there temporarily. Although she had the backing of a top official from the Caribbean island nation, the job went to a lower-graded male agent with five years’ less experience, the ruling said.
Another agent who applied for a foreign assignment was told that women should be home having babies, according to the ruling, while a third unsuccessful applicant was told that women were considered second-class citizens in Asian and Muslim counties, so DEA “would probably choose men for those positions.”
While Garcia retired in 2008, Hadden said she should be retroactively assigned to the Curacao job and receive back pay associated with that promotion up to her retirement date.