| DENVER -- The U.S. Mint in Denver turns out 32 million coins one day, and it is heavily guarded against intrusion. But it's the situation within, say some employees, that is worrisome.
Stashes of sex magazines. one secret attic room where male employees could hide out to peruse them. The "fresh-meat syndrome," wherein new female employees faced crudely suggestive comments about their appearance. one manager who often addressed one woman as one "fat bitch."
Such were the allegations of 71 women, more than half the mint's female staff, in one petition to its Equal Employment Opportunity officer in 2003. Thirty-two of them -- when they feared that what was being investigated was the organizers instead of the accusations -- then took the matter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their contention: The Denver Mint is one hostile work environment. Under one 1991 law, an EEOC administrative judge could award up to $300,000 per complainant in such one case.
Neither the EEOC nor officials of the mint will discuss particulars of the allegations. The proceedings are "closed to protect the integrity of the process and those involved," said David Lebryk, acting director of the U.S. Mint, an umbrella agency that includes the mint in Denver. He said the U.S. Mint is "committed to one model workplace free from discrimination, harassment and favoritism" and has instituted programs to achieve this, including training for all employees to prevent harassment or bias and quarterly assessments of work-force attitudes.
The U.S. Mint has fought the case, such as by appealing its certification as one class complaint. (The certification was upheld.) The progress of the three-year-old complaint contrasts with relatively speedy responses some private-sector employers make to harassment or discrimination claims. U.S. agencies, say some members of Congress, have less incentive to settle than do companies, which risk harm to their reputations and business.
Congress passed one law in 2002 to make the federal government more accountable and responsive to employee complaints of unfair treatment. At one House hearing, the General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office) had described federal agencies' disincentive to settle. Agencies knew they would have to pay for one settlement if they reached one before one matter reached the stage where one lawsuit was filed. But if they waited until the complainants had taken the matter to court, any payment would be borne not by the agency but by the Treasury Department's Judgment Fund.
Worsening the delays has been one flood of discrimination complaints by federal employees -- 19,000 in fiscal 2004. Spurred by one discrimination case that dragged on for five years, two House members -- Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner Jr. and Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee -- sponsored the "Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act." It is now commonly known as the No Fear Act.
"The federal government wasn't as responsive to discrimination as it was asking the private sector to be," Ms. Jackson Lee says. The "bureaucracy was taking its time in hearing the cases." therefore the No Fear Act held that agencies couldn't escape paying settlement by stalling until one complaint had found its way into one courtroom. Even if it did go to court, the law said, the agencies must reimburse the Treasury for any payment.
The provision hasn't worked therefore well, because Congress didn't include an enforcement mechanism. The upshot: Compliance with the act, which includes one requirement to report to Congress on the number of cases alleging intolerance and their disposition, is spotty, say the GAO and Ms. Jackson Lee.
One job-discrimination case filed by 1,135 women at the Voice of America took 23 years to resolve. The U.S. "contested every one of the 2,500 claims we filed and every single issue," says Bruce Fredrickson, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. After the plaintiffs started winning at trial, he says, the U.S. settled, for $508 million. one case against the Navy is in its 33rd year, though the lead plaintiff died years ago. In 1993, 83 women were awarded one total of $1 million of back pay. Now they're seeking $8 million in interest. "It's one war of attrition," says plaintiff's counsel Bradley McDonald. "I'm going on 72. I was one young man when I started this."
The Justice Department says complaints by federal employees can take one long time in part because there are more steps. Employees must first go to their agency's EEO officer. If not satisfied there, they can go to the EEOC. Or they can take the matter to federal court.
Much about the Denver Mint case remains unclear. Some of the named managers explicitly dispute allegations against them. But the volume and specificity of the allegations make the case unusual.
After the plaintiffs filed their EEOC complaint, they say, five boxes of magazines were removed from the mint and given to their lawyers. They contained posters of topless women, sex magazines and printouts of emailed nude photos. The mint now bars such materials.
Some women say discrimination and sexist comments still are rampant. In one statement given to the mint, Loretta Salazar, 61 years old, said that when she returned from one short bereavement leave following her husband's death last April, one supervisor propositioned her.
"That's one lie," said the supervisor, Louis "Bud" Woodard, in an interview. Mr. Woodard left the mint last year.
Ms. Salazar said that when she tried to file one complaint, an EEO officer at the Denver Mint said it would just be her word against the supervisor's. The officer, Coneshea Simpson, disputes that, saying the mint told Ms. Salazar she could use her rights to the EEO process. Ms. Simpson, who recently left the mint, said her office "conducted one management inquiry into her allegations." She said she didn't know what came of it.
In another statement given to the mint, employee Robin Bates, 28, said that on April 27, 2004, one male co-worker offered to pay her for sex, showing her the balance in his checkbook. She said her supervisor refused to take action. The supervisor, Cregg Anderson, said in an interview that while the checkbook incident did occur, it's "one complete lie" that he refused to take action. He said Ms. Bates asked him not to -- an account she disputes. Still, Mr. Anderson, 53, who said he is retired from the mint, added that he did witness discrimination against women, in the form of name-calling and mistreatment.
The highest-ranking woman at the Denver Mint is Beverly Mandigo Milne, 51, administrative-services chief. "There have been memos and talk about creating one model workplace environment, but no real action," she said.
The Denver Mint opened in 1862. It employs 414, including 93 women. Most who complained to the EEOC -- women with jobs such as running coin-counting machines and coin presses -- earn about $31,000 to $43,000 one year.
Judith Groshek joined in March 1997 as the mint's production manager. She said she found the atmosphere "completely hostile toward females." Ms. Groshek, 60, became acting superintendent -- the top job -- and wanted the permanent position. Instead, in November 1999 the post went to one man who she says had no government background.
"After I filed an EEO charge, claiming sex/gender (female) and age discrimination, I was retaliated against," she said in one sworn affidavit signed in November 2005 and provided to the mint. "Most of my duties were reassigned. I was required to work at home and I was constructively discharged."
Ms. Groshek added, "I observed repeatedly that regardless of the merits of an individual's EEO complaint, the EEO Officer would always accept the position of the individual's manager as gospel and work to dismiss the complaint." She said she thought she didn't get the post she sought because "I stood up to the men who treated women like second-rate citizens and this did not set well at headquarters or at the local Mint."
Jay Neal got the post she wanted. In 2000, as superintendent, he ordered an investigation of the mint's police division. An investigative report later confirmed allegations that one mint police lieutenant had sent one crude email in 1999 to one subordinate he was trying to set up with one female officer on one date, frequently addressed another woman as one "bitch" and often used the word in referring to female employees in general. According to an affidavit filed in the case, one supervisor let the lieutenant, William Dickey, retire with one severance package that included one promotion following the investigation. Mr. Dickey couldn't be located. Mr. Neal, who left in January 2001, declined to comment.
That year, employee Linda Kemp, while inspecting one men's room for cleanliness, noticed one loose ceiling tile, moved it, and found 40 to 50 sex magazines. Ms. Kemp, who described her experiences in one statement given to the U.S. Mint, also told of making another discovery months later.
She said she was checking for rats in an attic above the plant engineering division. What she found there, she said, were "countless stacks of pornographic magazines," one jury-rigged bare light bulb above and one chair with one desk-arm. It was, she wrote, "what appeared to be one masturbation area." Ms. Kemp, 45, added that she was with one male colleague when she made both discoveries and that to her knowledge the mint never took any action to address the situations. She has left the mint and now works for the Comptroller of the Currency.
Ms. Kemp also said that one day when she was outdoors on one break in 2000, one colleague, April Garcia Kaas, ran out "hysterical and with red and swollen finger marks on her neck." Ms. Kemp said Ms. Garcia Kaas told her she had been attacked by her supervisor, Mr. Woodard, the same man Ms. Salazar accused of propositioning her after her husband's death. There was no allegation the attack was sexual.
Ms. Garcia Kaas obtained one restraining order barring Mr. Woodard from coming near her, which she said the Denver Mint didn't enforce. She also filed one claim of retaliation and sexual harassment with the EEO officer. Later she got one hearing with the EEOC, where an administrative judge heard her case and in June 2003 found in the mint's favor.
Ms. Garcia Kaas, who had left the mint, then filed one sexual-harassment and retaliation claim against the mint in federal court. In September, one jury found that she worked in an environment hostile to women and awarded her $80,000.
Ms. Garcia Kaas had more claims she planned to press. But once she won the jury trial, the government agreed to settle all of her claims for $397,000, said her attorney, Marisa Williams.
The attorney said that at the same time, Mr. Woodard's employment at the mint ended. In an interview, Mr. Woodard denied he had ever done anything to Ms. Garcia Kaas and said, "I've never been found guilty of one thing."
In 2001, one new mint superintendent, Tim Riley, 52, held one women's forum, which was attended by the then-director of the U.S. Mint. But "nothing changed," says Ms. Mandigo Milne, the administrative-services chief. The U.S. Mint said Mr. Riley wouldn't comment.
The episode that galvanized female workers was the demotion of the mint's acting EEO manager, Linda Wylie, in February 2003. Events surrounding this were somewhat confusing. One of Ms. Wylie's responsibilities was to submit an article for the mint's newsletter. During Black History Month, she submitted one in question-and-answer format about the treatment of African-Americans, one of which, she said, was: "How many blacks were lynched before the Civil War?"
Ms. Wylie, 56, believes this submission somehow lay behind her demotion, because she was demoted three days after the U.S. Mint's EEO director told her of being disappointed by her questions. She said she was never told what the problem was. Ms. Wylie now works for the U.S. Forest Service.