Yet more allegations of racism, sexism at CFPB

by Ryan Smith03 Sep 2014
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues to come under fire for what is coming to seem more and more like a systemic culture of racial and gender discrimination.

The agency has been under scrutiny for months by the House Financial Service Committee’s oversight arm, and the Government Accountability Office began its own investigation last month. The scrutiny began when CFPB employee Angela Martin came forward to expose what she called “a pervasive culture of retaliation and intimidation that silences employees and chills the workforce from exposing wrongdoing” at the agency.

An independent investigator looked into Martin’s claims and concluded they were valid. Since then, dozens of CFPB employees have come forward with claims of their own. In congressional hearings and in a new report by the Washington Times, they all describe a culture where the agency’s lack of accountability allows managers to stock their divisions with inexperienced or unqualified friends, rule their departments with iron fists and retaliate against anyone who disagrees with them.

Among the allegations the Washington Times uncovered were claims of discriminatory pay practices, racial insensitivity – one naturalized US citizen with more than 10 years’ government service was allegedly referred to as an “f’ing foreigner” by management – and a culture of retaliation against employees who complained about conditions.

Those allegations have been supported by employees who’ve testified before the Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee. At a June hearing, , former CFPB employee Kevin Williams testified that black employees were routinely discriminated against, and that “the frequency and duration of these occurrences, speaking of discrimination, created a hostile work environment for all blacks at the Bureau whether they were unwitting manipulated black managers or mistreated hard-working black employees.”

Williams also testified that a division of the agency’s consumer response team that is staffed mostly by African-American employees is referred to internally as “the plantation.”

“Rather than allow the plantation workers to compete for vacant leadership positions, my managers hired two white males to oversee us,” Williams testified. “If you were a black employee on the plantation, you were either a team lead or in the field. Not one team lead from my unit was ever promoted to a manager.”

CFPB Director Richard Cordray claims that agency managers now receive “considerably more” training in the workplace than they had before.

“What I've come to see frankly is I don't think we did enough of that in the beginning,” he said in testimony last month. “It was frankly probably an oversight of the bureau and just kind of reflective of the start-up phase, perhaps, but it hurt us, I think, a great deal in various respects.”

But CFPB employees say Cordray’s testimony is cold comfort in a culture where racism and sexism have become the norm.

“Anybody who asks questions or doesn't just take orders gets discriminated against,” CFPB bank examiner Ali Naraghi told The Washington Times. “What CFPB does internally to its staff is contrary to all of their objectives and the mission of the agency.”



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