WASHINGTON — The Secret Service is racked by a deep-seated culture of racism and discrimination that officials do little to remedy, black agents who are suing the government for damages said Wednesday.
The Secret Service agents, speaking ahead of Friday's opening hearing of a lawsuit that could win them hundreds of thousands of dollars each, said officials had allowed a work environment laced with racism and discrimination to flourish.
"The Secret Service permitted a racially hostile environment to exist," Special Agent Malcolm Landry said in a deposition distributed at a news conference.
The Secret Service, which guards the president and other senior administration officials, denies the accusations and says it is proud of its reputation for diversity.
The agents filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of up to 250 black Secret Service agents in May, although lawyers said on Wednesday that 14 people had since withdrawn their names.
They said the Treasury Department, responsible for the agents, knew about the discrimination that black agents faced but did nothing about it. The agency rarely disciplined or corrected white agents who used racial slurs or committed other hostile acts, they said.
Lawyers have said the suit seeks damages that could run into millions of dollars, including $300,000 for each black agent, back pay and other compensation. They would prefer an out-of-court settlement if the Secret Service agrees to change its promotion system and other employment practices.
"We are not talking about individual people and just individual acts," said Reginald Moore.
Waiting for the courts
The Secret Service said it was waiting for the opportunity to defend itself from the charges in the courts, which spokesman Jim Mackin said was "the most appropriate venue to address these claims"
"We are proud of our record on diversity and our efforts to provide a level playing field for all our employees," he said, noting that two of seven assistant directors were African-American.
The agency's Web site says the Secret Service "is looking for highly qualified men and women from diverse backgrounds who desire a fast paced, exciting and challenging career."
But the black agents also said they had to work more undercover assignments than their white colleagues, were subject to more severe disciplinary action and spent longer at low ranking job levels before being promoted.
Robert Moore, currently a United States marshal for the Southern District of Alabama said he left the service in 1993 because he did not feel there was any chance of advancement.
"I felt beaten by a racially discriminatory system," he said. "After 22 years of service, the Secret Service had not promoted me beyond the GS-13 level." That is the last rank before an agent qualifies for a pay scale called GS-14 and joins the management tier.
Landry said white agents in the Secret Service's Los Angeles field office used terms like "goddamn nigger" or "coon" when they referred to an African-American person.
The Secret Service was founded in 1865 to prevent counterfeiting in the United States. Its officers, trained to take a bullet for their charge, have been protecting presidents since 1894.