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© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 2002
As a young person in Glen Cove, N.Y., I would dutifully deposit money earned babysitting into a passbook savings account at the local bank. Year after year, the same women would be behind the teller's counter registering my deposits. But the male tellers -- when there were any -- would quickly rotate out. As my mother explained, the men were being promoted into the bank's management, moving ahead of women with far more seniority and experience.
Even at the tender age of 13, I was outraged.
Thanks to a federal lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Rights, that same visceral anger over double standards has erupted again. This time, though, the gender is different. The center alleges that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is a place where white males can't get hired or promoted fairly because the agency is too busy bean-counting women and minorities. Apparently, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction it has crashed through the clock casing.
According to the government's own statistics, minorities constitute 46 percent of HUD's workforce yet make up only 15 percent of the relevant labor pool. Such yawning disparities typically have been cited by civil rights lawyers as proof of discrimination against those left behind. But because this time the artificial barriers have been raised against white males, no one from the traditional civil rights community is raising a fuss.
Dennis Worth, 55, is the lead plaintiff in the center's class action suit. He has been working for HUD's St. Louis office for the last 24 years. Until the early 1990s, Worth, a white man, was regularly promoted and given sparkling performance reviews. However, since 1994, the reviews have remained strong but the promotions have stopped. He was repeatedly passed over for better jobs in favor of women and minorities with less experience and education.
According to Worth, back in 1994 all three white male supervisors in his office, including himself, were involuntarily transferred to nonsupervisory positions, and black men or women were given the jobs instead. When Worth and the others challenged the fairness of the action through formal departmental channels, their complaints were "not accepted."
Discrimination's sting is equal opportunity. Worth and men like him should not have to sacrifice their careers on the altar of affirmative action.
It is easy to see how this has gotten out of hand. Incentives to discriminate against white men are built into the entire federal employment system thanks to rules promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- another agency named in the center's suit. Even when minorities and women already make up the majority of employees in a job category, HUD's EEO program rewards managers for figuring out ways to manipulate the numbers to hire or promote more. For example, employees within the department's "technical" job category are 62 percent minority and 89 percent women. Still, the department claims there are "manifest imbalances" that need to be cured by hiring more black males, white females, Hispanic males, Asians of both genders and American Indian/Alaskan Native males. This fiction is accomplished by slicing job classifications into tiny subdivisions to create the appearance of underrepresentation.
In reality, the only "manifest imbalance" existing at HUD is the stark underrepresentation of white males, who make up 36 percent of the technical labor force in general yet only 5 percent of the technical employees at the department. This discrepancy, however, holds no interest for the department's EEO people. No one at HUD would even discuss the matter, citing pending litigation.
Worth says white males are leaving the department in droves. His division is down to three out of 20 employees. Those who are staying, says Worth, know not to bother applying for promotions. Worth played a telephone message he'd received that morning from a co-worker in Washington, D.C. The male voice said he and three others there were also trying to challenge the discriminatory practices. "It's about damn time something gets done about this," said the angry, demoralized voice.
Curt Levey, the center's director of Legal and Public Affairs, said a similar suit could be filed against virtually any federal agency. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that minority employees throughout the federal government are significantly overrepresented relative to the labor pool. Still each department and agency is responsible for implementing an affirmative action plan.
The center's lawsuit is asking for no money beyond attorney's fees. The group just wants the government to cut it out. We have built a huge bureaucracy of people whose sole function is to categorize, count and value people based on their skin color and gender -- a leviathan our Constitution should no longer tolerate.
Rewarding employees for a factor beyond merit is destructive in ways too numerous to name. The women who long ago worked at that bank in Glen Cove know exactly what I mean.