The federal consumer watchdog agency has been beset by complaints of retaliation and discrimination, according to a published report.
The Washington Times, citing congressional investigators, internal documents, and interviews with employees, reports that workers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed 115 official grievances through the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) in 2013 alone.
Among the complaints are that managers retaliated against employees for comments or questions that they didn't like by denying vacation time, refusing internal requests for promotion, and hiring unqualified acquaintances who would have to be trained by employees in lower positions.
"Certain managers have adopted an authoritarian, untouchable, unaccountable and unanswerable management style," CFPB enforcement attorney Angela Martin told Congress earlier this year.
More seriously, according to the Times, Martin's testimony alleged the existence of an entire department at the CFPB nicknamed "The Plantation" that is staffed almost entirely of black workers supervised by white managers with no obvious promotional track.
"There is an entire section in Consumer Response Intake that is 100 percent African-American, even the contractors, and it is called 'The Plantation,'" Martin said. "And people tell me it’s very hard to leave The Plantation. You must be extremely savvy, or you must [have] somebody else [help you] to get out. And I will note, you cannot say education is a factor, because there are licensed attorneys and [people with] advanced master’s degrees working there."
CFPB spokeswoman Jen Howard told the Times that Martin's claims are incorrect, claiming that the vast majority of the promotions from the consumer response intake section went to minorities.
Issues of discrimination first came to light at the CFPB earlier this year, when agency director Richard Cordray told staff members in an email this past May that "broad-based disparities" in the way employees were rated in 2012 and 2013 had been uncovered in several areas including: race/ethnicity, age, bargaining unit membership eligibility, location in the field or at headquarters, and tenure as a CFPB employee.
A 2013 internal agency report found 74.6 percent of white employees ratings of four or five compared with 65.2 percent of Hispanics and 57.6 of black employees. That resulted in the agency scrapping its old rating system, which assigned workers a score between one and five, in favor of giving everyone who scored a three or above a retroactive rating of five and a pay raise.
The Times reported that the issue was addressed at an agency-wide conference this past spring, where a management presentation vowed to "compensate employees to remediate [sic] statistical disparities caused by our prior performance management system and to bargain with NTEU to change it going forward."
However, agency employees say that the retroactive raises have done nothing to eliminate the disparity, since almost every employee got a bonus of some kind.