Statement from Joel Clement and Katherine Atkinson in response to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s report on the reassignment of career SES employees

Washington, D.C.—Today, Joel Clement, the civil servant who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Department of the Interior, and Katherine Atkinson, the attorney from Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson representing Joel Clement, released the following statements in response to the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Inspector General’s (IG’s) report on the reassignment of career SES employees. The IG Report confirms that the political leadership at Interior sat behind closed doors and made employment decisions based on punitive or discriminatory reasons.

Joel Clement said: “I am stunned by the level of incompetence that this report describes; there were so few records kept that the Inspector General can’t even make a determination of the legality of the reassignment actions,” says Joel Clement. “It’s remarkable that the political staff at Interior would be so blithe, thoughtless, and careless during a time of intense scrutiny. It begs the question, what did they have to hide?

“At very least, the mass reassignment demonstrated incredibly poor workplace management, including discrimination, wasted taxpayer dollars, and a callous disregard for the career staff at the agency,” Clement said. “If they wanted to prove just how poorly the Interior Department would be run by the Trump Administration, they checked all the boxes. However, there are also clear indications of political motivations for some of the reassignments, including mine. This is a long-established no-no; there are important reasons to keep the civil service partitioned from the political winds and whims of each new administration. While every incoming administration would love to bend the career ranks to their every wish, they generally know better than to try. The Trump Administration, to put it simply, just doesn’t know better.

“This report sends up a red flag that indicates a deeper investigation is necessary, I hope that Congress will seek more information from the ERB members at Interior, and consider how and when Interior should do right by the executives who were impacted by discrimination or retaliation. In the meantime, Secretary Zinke, the only Senate-confirmed employee at Interior when these reassignments took place, should resign.”

Katherine Atkinson said: "The absence of evidence is itself damning evidence.  Retaliation and discrimination cases rarely involve a ‘smoking gun.’  Instead, they involve suspicious facts and holes in the record.  The hole in this record is unprecedented.  The Inspector General’s Report confirms my belief that the political leadership at the Department of the Interior sat behind closed doors and made employment decisions based on punitive or discriminatory reasons.

"Leadership at the Department of the Interior did not have the information necessary to make informed decisions. They reassigned employees without taking into account cost or its own rationale for moves in the first place, and then failed to collect any of the information necessary to document its decisions. Furthermore, the decision to reassign career SES employees went against the Deputy Solicitor’s legal advice for communicating these moves to these public servants.

"This is a prime example of a leadership failure at the highest level.  The investigation should not stop here. The OIG Report calls into question the Executive Resources Board (ERB) members’ credibility.  Failing to remember facts a few months after an incident, inconsistent statements between witnesses, and illogical explanations are trademarks of untruthful statements.  Given this, I ask the Oversight Committee and Energy Committee in both houses of Congress to call the ERB members to testify about their rationale for the reassignments.  Members of Congress, the devoted federal executives, and the American people should have an opportunity to assess the credibility of the ERB members and the legitimacy of their explanations."

 

Federal Judge Finds French Embassy Discriminated Unlawfully Against Muslim Employee

Ruling Follows Landmark Decision by the D.C. Circuit That French Citizen Working for French Embassy in U.S. Entitled to U.S. Civil Rights Law Protections

D.C. Federal District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled from the bench that the French Embassy discriminated against employee Saima Ashraf-Hassan when it subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her race, South Asian; national origin, Pakistani; religion, Muslim; and pregnancy.

Judge Boasberg found Ashraf-Hassan credible when she testified to being fired because she was pregnant, repeatedly referred to as a “terrorist” or otherwise taunted as responsible for the actions of terrorists, called “[the] Pashtun”—a derogatory term implying an Afghani member of the Taliban—and was terminated yet a second time because of her minority status.

For over nine years, Ashraf-Hassan’s case has been pending in the U.S. judicial process.  Today, she stated: “I feel incredibly vindicated.  After 14 years I finally have justice.  An American court has heard my story (where the French government refused to even acknowledge my case) and concluded that what was done to me was not only wrong and inhumane but illegal.”

The verdict follows a contentious battle before the D.C. Circuit wherein the French government argued it was immune from liability as a foreign sovereign. The D.C. Circuit found the embassy contracted with local employees and, as such, it is responsible for complying with U.S. laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII provides protection against discrimination on the basis of race, class, national origin, disability, religion and other reasons.

Representing Ashraf-Hassan are Katie Atkinson from the Law Offices of Gary M. Gilbert & Associates and Ari Wilkenfeld from Wilkenfeld Herendeen Law in Washington, D.C.  Atkinson stated, “We will continue advocating for Muslim employees mistreated in the workplace.  Everyone in this country has a right to go to work without fear, regardless of religion.” 

Wilkenfeld, a lifetime Washingtonian, stated, “It’s not every day you see an embassy in D.C. held responsible for violating U.S. laws.  I can’t think of a better reaffirmation of our values than to have a U.S. court step up and protect a woman—who as a Pakistani Muslim is also a member of at least three different minority groups—even if she was arguably working on French soil.”

WLG Wins Religious Discrimination and Retaliation Trial in the 4th Circuit

WLG is proud to announce a trial victory in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division.

The plaintiff, Sean Mohammed, is a Seventh Day Adventist who worked for Central Drive Mini Storage for over seven years.  During that time, he was allowed to arrange his schedule so he did not work on Saturdays—his day of worship.  In 2010, a new manager was brought in who refused to accommodate Mr. Mohammed's religious beliefs.  She told Mr. Mohammed that he was “not a team player” and that he would not advance within the company unless he worked on Saturdays.  When Mr. Mohammed complained about this treatment, he was quickly terminated.

In a 35-page decision, United States District Judge Raymond Jackson found that the employer’s stated rationales for terminating Mr. Mohammed were not credible and were simply pretext for retaliation in response to Mr. Mohammed’s complaints of religious discrimination.  Judge Jackson’s opinion analyzed the strict standards the Fourth Circuit applies in discrimination and retaliation cases, and concluded that the evidence presented at trial indeed met that very high burden.

WLG co-founder Ari Wilkenfeld, who tried the case with fellow co-founder Rosalind Herendeen and a local counsel, said, “This is a real vindication for Mr. Mohammed, who has always maintained that there was no valid reason for his termination.  It is also very gratifying to win a civil rights case in the Fourth Circuit.  It’s not an easy thing to do, but we are hopeful Judge Jackson’s outstanding opinion will serve to embolden more victims of discrimination who live in Virginia to take their chances in court and try to obtain justice as Mr. Mohammed did.”

WLG Client Featured in GW Hatchet

The Wilkenfeld Law Group recently filed a sexual harassment and retaliation case against The George Washington University on behalf of Linda Queen, a former member of the University’s Police Department.  This is an important case which highlights the systemic problem of sexual harassment on college campuses and the woefully inadequate and insulting measures taken to protect the victims.  Click on this link for the article by Eva Palmer of the GW Hatchet regarding this case and featuring an interview with WLG Partner and GW alum Rosalind Herendeen.

WLG Interviewed on Complexity of Marijuana Legalization

Wednesday evening WLG partner Ari Wilkenfeld was interviewed by NBC4’s Mark Segraves on the growing complexity of marijuana legalization within the District of Columbia.  This issue is garnering both local and national attention and we are proud that one of our partners is an emerging expert in the field.

See the video below for the segment, and follow this link for NBC4’s coverage.

EEOC Files First Lawsuits Alleging Transgender Discrimination

In an exciting move, the EEOC filed its first lawsuits alleging transgender discrimination. The EEOC's decision to raise these claims is representative of an effort to develop and expand the scope of employees' protections under Title VII. Find links to these groundbreaking cases below.

EEOC Sues Detroit Funeral Home Chain for Sex Discrimination Against Transgender Employee
EEOC Sues Lakeland Eye Clinic for Sex Discrimination Against Transgender Employee

WLG Recognized by the GW Hatchet for its Extensive Work on Behalf of George Washington University Employees

Ari Wilkenfeld and The Wilkenfeld Law Group were profiled by the GW Hatchet yesterday.  Ari Wilkenfeld and Rosalind Herendeen were interviewed by student reporters last week about WLG's current cases against the University--the School of Business in particular--as well as Mr. Wilkenfeld's long career representing GWU employees.  WLG clients Linda Queen and Aaron Johnson have both been highlighted in the Hatchet previously.  While this piece focuses on the problems we’ve seen in the School of Business, we hope it raises awareness of the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation often perpetrated against employees in many of the University's other schools and departments. 

Senate Confirms Diane Humetewa, the First Native American Female Federal Judge

Though not WLG news, we, along with the rest of the civil rights community, celebrate the nomination and confirmation of Hopi citizen Diane Humetewa, who will become the first Native American female to serve as an Article III Judge.  In a rare moment of bipartisanship, Humetewa was confirmed 96 to 0 to serve as a District Court Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

For more information, we invite you to read the report on Native News Online here: http://nativenewsonline.net/currents/diane-humetewa-confirmed-us-senate-first-american-indian-woman-federal-judge/.