Agency tasked with investigating discrimination accused of discrimination

Michael Volpe Contributor
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The federal agency tasked with investigating allegations of discrimination in consumer financial transactions was accused of discriminatory treatment of its own employees in a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Angela Martin, a senior enforcement attorney with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), alleged that a ring of managers within the CFPB favors men over women in promotions, performance reviews, and the work place environment.

“I am a victim of discrimination by the bureau dating back to May 2012, and I have suffered severe retaliation since December 2012, which continues through today,” Martin said during an emotional testimony. “Sadly, my story is not unique. My colleagues likewise have suffered and are suffering at the hands of inexperienced, unaccountable managers. I am glad this hearing is being held because, based on my observations at the Bureau, I have concluded that the Bureau is sorely in need of effective oversight, and that Bureau management needs to be held accountable, particularly with regards to its internal management practices.”

Martin said that after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity office within CFPB, her manager retaliated against her by informing her that her subordinates would now report to him. He then threatened to bring counter claims, took away investigative duties, and held her responsible for work she hadn’t done, said Martin.

She said there is a ring of upper level managers in the CFPB division she works in — the consumer responses division led by Scott Pluta — engages in behavior which discriminates against females and minorities. During her testimony, Martin said she had been told that Pluta was “developing his own empire within the office of consumer responses within the CFRP.”

Martin charged that Pluta hoped to fill the office of consumer responses with cronies and so-called “yes men” who would do anything he asked — because they all were thankful for the opportunity he was giving them.

The CFRP didn’t send a representative to the meeting to defend its conduct, saying this was a private personnel matter, but Martin countered that Pluta had on at least one occasion referred to an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint she had filed during a staff meeting.

TheDC reported earlier this week on a report from the Senator Chuck Grassley’s office about the Obama administration routinely violating non-disclosure protections for whistleblowers.

The hearing made waves before it even began. On March 31, Reps. Maxine Waters and Al Green asked for the hearing be called off in a letter to committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Investigations and Oversight Sub-Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry.

Waters and Green argued in their letter that there is systemic discrimination throughout the financial regulatory sphere, and the CFPB was unfairly being singled out.

In the letter, Waters and Green suggested that Inspector General’s Office overseeing each of the federal regulatory agencies should conduct an investigation, but Martin said she went to the IGs Office at the Federal Reserve Bank and the IGs office told her the IG’s office didn’t handle her type of complaint.

The Dodd/Frank financial reform bill which created the CFPB, also gave extra investigative authority to the OIGs office at the Federal Reserve Board, along with its FRB oversight.

Whistleblowers in previous Daily Caller stories have also found it difficult for federal authorities to investigate their cases: the psychologist Jim Singer was repeatedly brushed off by state and federal authorities in his attempts to have his case investigated, firefighters in the US Forest Service also told theDC that their complaints were ignored by IG officials, and Oliver Mitchell, who helped to break a story on the destruction of radiology tests at the VA hospital in LA, told theDC his was ignored when he initially complained to the Office of Special Counsel.

Waters was far more deferential to Martin during the hearing, at one point yielding all her time to Martin without asking questions.

Martin was joined as a witness by Misty Raucci, an investigator with the Defense Investigators Group who was tasked with investigating the complaints. She concurred with all the allegations, fingering Pluta and Dane D’Alessandro.

“The Martin/Pluta investigation, which was supposed to be only two to five statements, took six months to complete because as the process started, I became a veritable hotline for employees at CFPB, who called to discuss their own maltreatment at the bureau, mainly at the hands of Scott Pluta or Dane D’Alessandro,” Raucci said. “The sum of my findings was that Scott Pluta retaliated against Angela Martin after she filed a formal complaint of discrimination and retaliation.”

“In concert with at least three facilitators, Mr.  Pluta effectively removed Ms. Martin from her position as chief counsel of consumer response, and saw her relegated to a lesser position in another office. Mr. Pluta attempted to justify Ms. Martin’s removal by expressing doubt as to her ability to perform her duties as chief counsel; however, his criticisms largely occurred after she filed her complaint. This was a major indicator that Mr. Pluta’s rationale for demoting Ms. Martin for what he perceived as shortcomings was masking his other motives.”

Raucci also answered yes when she was asked during the hearing if she thought Liza Strong, head of the CFPB’s Human Capital Office, had swept the discrimination and retaliation under the rug.

Martin said that since she’s come forward, at least a dozen other employees of the CFPB have come to her voicing their own stories of discrimination and retaliation. She said one person was “medically diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the hostile work environment.”

The hearings were spurred, in part, by a March 6 American Banker expose that revealed that a far higher percentage of white employees were being promoted than minorities, as well as a dozen anonymous sources who described an environment largely like the one described by Martin.

“People don’t stay for the long term and that’s a product of treatment of the employees,” a former employee told American Banker. “As a startup agency, you would expect an atmosphere that encourages collaboration, professional development and upward career mobility. Instead, you quickly find inequities in the treatment of employees and the division of work assignments. The level of nitpicking and downright bullying by management is unparalleled. When employees raise these concerns, they are retaliated against.”

Marcel Reid became well-known as a whistleblower against the community organizing group the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, and  since she’s been a whistleblower advocate, Reid told TheDC that she’s heard numerous stories of federal whistleblowers facing retaliation, like that described by Martin.

“It is, of course, very embarrassing and ironic that the agency that is trying to eliminate disparate impact from lending is guilty of employee promotion practices that are having a disparate impact on protected classes,” said Alan Kaminsky, an attorney who runs a blog called CFPB Monitor.

Martin even fingered CFPB Commissioner Robert Cordray in manipulating the process: “August 7 at 8:54 in a two minute conversation he told me to tell my attorneys to back down” said Martin. Cordray, Martin says, was trying to secure her a position in a different division of the CFPB.

“But what I did not know was on August 7, after I thought it was settled, Director Cordray and somebody else gave that position to somebody else,” Martin said.

Martin said that an email from Cordray sent to  the staff at the CFPB about moving forward following the American Banker article was dubious, because in the email Cordray had appointed Sirtaj Alag to head an investigation. Martin alleged that Alag had previously told her to allow male superiors to take credit for her ideas as a means of getting ahead at the agency.