Employees declare discrimination at company constructed to guard civil rights

Dawn West-Lewis, former EEOC investigatorYou speak of an authority charged with investigating discrimination in the workplace while more violations are committed than you can ever imagine.

The agency launched another disciplinary investigation into Rhule’s GoFundMe page earlier this month. Shortly thereafter, Rhule closed down donations and removed mentions of the EEOC. But her story caught the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Gary Bledsoe, the Texas NAACP chairman, said the EEOC’s handling of Rhule’s case betrayed the agency’s mission.

“What is happening here is pretty shocking,” Bledsoe told USA TODAY. “You can’t hold the fox responsible for the henhouse.”

Another black investigator, Dawn West-Lewis, left the EEOC in 2015. She told USA TODAY that her managers in Texas viewed downright black women as aggressive but white women as assertive. They punished them for things as trivial as parking in the wrong part of the property while letting others park wherever they wanted. She said she was also disciplined because she worked on cases after hours in her spare time.

“You speak of an agency charged with investigating workplace discrimination and at the same time committing more violations than you can ever imagine,” said West-Lewis. “There has been a pattern and practice of systemic discrimination practices in this office for decades.”

Richard Reinhart started working for the EEOC in Dallas last summer. He said he noticed an internal commotion immediately after seeing replies to Rhule’s emails, which were copied to all staff.

“Our responsibility here is to fight discrimination,” said Reinhart, an army veteran who served in Iraq. “How can we be told that we cannot support Black Lives Matter?”

Not long after, Reinhart began speaking to his manager about instructions that he found confusing and cases that he believed had not been properly investigated, according to internal records received from USA TODAY. He said the problems came to a head when management forced him to work in the office during the COVID pandemic. Reinhart complained that he was likely to contract and spread the virus.

When Reinhart reached out to employees for help with work, he said they turned him away.

“Essentially, I received a gag order,” wrote Reinhart to the top lawyers at the agency’s headquarters in March. “My mistreatment is the tip of the iceberg in the Dallas District Office.”

He filed a formal complaint with the agency earlier this month, claiming he felt singled out and mistreated. Less than two weeks later, Reinhart was fired via a Zoom meeting.

In his resignation letter, McCallister, the district director, said regulators were increasingly concerned about Reinhart’s “performance and behavioral issues.” She said he repeatedly disrespected his manager on one phone call – he hung up once – and failed to follow instructions, including not using proper documents when communicating with companies.

“I believe you are unsuitable for federal service,” McCallister wrote in the letter.

Reinhart was stunned. “I was expecting the EEOC to have high standards for the public,” he said. “What I’ve seen is devastating.”

Richard Reinhart, former EEOC employee on probationI believed in the EEOC’s mission with all my heart when I started. I don’t see how it is possible for us to fight discrimination against the public when that is the case move on within our own walls.

EEOC officials declined to comment on the details of Reinhart’s case, citing data protection laws. But Ebel, the director of field programs, said in a statement, “No people in the Dallas District were fired after filing a complaint of discrimination.”

For years, EEOC officials like Reinhart and Rhule have complained about unfair treatment at the Dallas District Office.

According to Nazer, 20 internal complaints of discrimination against district employees have been officially filed since 2011. According to the agency’s statistics, an average of 39 EEOC employees across the country filed internal complaints each year between 2015 and 2019. About a third of them were race related.

Management told an investigator, Hannah Nutt, who recently gave birth, that she couldn’t keep breast milk in the office refrigerator, Nutt told USA TODAY. She left the agency in late 2017.

That same year, Leonard, an investigator currently employed in Dallas, requested time off to seek treatment for his major depression and provided medical records to his superiors. His condition was so severe that he planned electroshock therapy.

“I want to work until treatments start and then finish my treatments and get back to work,” he wrote to a program manager for the disabled. “I know this has been difficult for everyone involved, but this is the last resort treatment and it is necessary. I’ve tried everything I can try ”

The manager approved the show for vacation, email, and text sharing.

When he woke up after the first round of treatment, Leonard said he did not know where he was or what had happened. At home he didn’t recognize his dogs. He didn’t remember having a job. It took weeks for him to recover before he could go back to work.

At this point, Leonard learned that the EEOC wanted to fire him because of AWOL. His bosses decided to suspend him for three months without pay instead.

Leonard appealed the discipline. An administrative judge later found that his superiors approved his medical leave and then, according to internal records, wrongly disciplined him.

In an initial ruling, the judge ordered the EEOC to grant Leonard a refund, stating that he had evidence that the agency discriminated against him because of his disability and that “the agency’s act was the result of unlawful retaliation”.

Leonard said the case is still pending because the EEOC has requested a chamber to review the judge’s decision. Four years later, he still feels betrayed by the episode.

“Everyone in need of housing has been laid off,” Leonard told USA TODAY. “We would never allow any other company to do what the EEOC did to me.”

Claims in Texas reflect others

The internal turmoil in Texas may reflect more widespread problems within the agency.

In a federal lawsuit filed in March, Malcolm Medley, a senior executive for Black at EEOC Washington headquarters, said he was downgraded after receiving a poor job rating based on the opinion of a manager who racially discriminated against him.

The EEOC denied these allegations, saying Medley’s downgrade was “the result of his unacceptable performance of his duties” according to court records. The case remains open.

The lawsuit alleges that Medley’s boss, Nick Inzeo, prevented him from performing the main duties of his job, including keeping out of meetings, emails, and other work conversations.

Inzeo reportedly yelled at Medley during a phone meeting in March 2020 for reaching out to the information technology department to discuss work-from-home and training solutions in the face of the worsening pandemic.


Do you know anyone who has dealt with systemic racism at work? Share this story.

Kessela Reis, an EEOC official who was concerned about Inzeo’s behavior, emailed 16 people at the meeting to discuss what she had heard.

“As a black woman, it is unbearable, disrespectful and outrageous to see a white man shouting at a black man in disgrace for trying to get his job done by simply attending a meeting labeled ‘brainstorming’,” reported Reis to Medley, wrote in the email.

Another employee agreed that Inzeo “irresponsibly beat up” Medley and “made him look stupid in front of the staff,” according to court records.

Several Texas investigators also said that Inzeo, who was responsible for monitoring their internal complaints from headquarters, had repeatedly turned his back on them and sided with local regulators. Inzeo left the agency in October after a 45-year career. Ebel, the program director, took his place.

In an interview with USA TODAY, Inzeo said that the Justice Department is handling the lawsuit on behalf of the agency. He denied any discriminatory or unfavorable behavior, adding that he advocated Medley by hiring staff in the DC office.

“Most of the people who spoke on the phone didn’t think it was a scream,” Inzeo said. “It was a situation where people were on a conference call and it was difficult to interfere.”

When asked about black workers in general at EEOC, Inzeo said he was unaware of any pattern of discrimination.

“EEOC has a diverse workforce and I am certainly not aware of any patterns of discrimination,” he said. “If I had been, I would have done something about it.”

Anita Mazumdar Chambers, Medley’s attorney, said she doesn’t believe her client’s experience is an isolated problem.

“We spoke to other people who also confirmed that it was more common,” she said. “Even with manager Nick Inzeo, that he treated African Americans worse and that there is a really negative culture in the agency that is a bit ironic given the agency’s purpose.”

Brett Murphy, Javonte Anderson and Nick Penzenstadler are reporters for the USA TODAY investigation team. Contact Brett at [email protected], @brettMmurphy, by calling 508-523-5195; Javonte at [email protected], @JavonteA, from Signal at 312-919-0360; and Nick at n[email protected], @npenzenstadler, from Signal at 720-507-5273.

Stories like this are possible because of our subscribers like you. Your support will enable us to continue producing quality journalism.

Stay up to date by signing up for one of our newsletters.

Log In

Released 9:31 UTC April 28, 2021
Updated April 28, 2021 at 10:53 a.m. UTC

Comments are closed.