As Former Chair of EEOC, Norton Concerned About Coast Guard Harassment, Retaliation Policies

Jan 15, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) released a letter she sent today to U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz raising concerns about the Coast Guard’s policies for responding to complaints of bullying, harassment, and retaliation.  As the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Norton says the policies currently in place, where complaints are handled by Civil Rights Service Providers (CRSPs) who must provide pre-complaint information on the process and policies to both complainants and respondents, create an obvious conflict of interest.  Norton requested a response within 30 days explaining why Coast Guard policy requires both the complainant and respondent to both go through the same CRSP, as well as requesting the Coast Guard develop a new policy to mitigate this obvious conflict of interest.  Norton also says that should the apparent conflict persist, she will pursue legislation to correct the issue.

Norton’s full letter can be found below.

January 15, 2020

Admiral Karl L. Schultz

Commandant

United States Coast Guard

2703 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE

Washington, DC 20593

Dear Admiral Schultz:

            I write with concern regarding the United States Coast Guard’s equal employment opportunity policies.  During a recent hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that focused on serious inadequacies of the Coast Guard in responding to complaints of bullying, harassment and retaliation, I came to understand that Civil Rights Service Providers (CRSPs) provide “pre-complaint” information on the anti-harassment process and policies of the Coast Guard to both complainants and to command, which can create an obvious conflict of interest.  I understand that this structure is created through policy of the Coast Guard, including in the Coast Guard’s Civil Rights Manual, not through a law passed by Congress.  The manual notes that these CRSPs are “to assist commands, employees, and military members.”  Your policy, therefore, requires CRSPs to provide information and advice on the equal employment opportunity/equal opportunity process to both complainants and respondents in a manner that is ripe for conflicts of interest, however unintended.  While I recognize that it appears your policy provides for the Civil Rights Directorate to process formally filed complaints, this only occurs after both the complainant and respondent have worked through the pre-complaint process using the same CRSP.  At no time in the process does it appear complainants have the right to seek independent advice from the Coast Guard on their legal rights.

I therefore write to ask you, first, to explain the reasons for the Coast Guard policy that requires both the complainant and respondent to both go through a CRSP – the same CRSP at that – and to ask that you develop a new policy to mitigate this obvious conflict of interest.  Just as the Coast Guard established this process, it can design a process with no conflict of interest.  Should this apparent conflict persist, I will pursue legislation on this important matter.  I appreciate your attention to this matter, and request that you respond to this letter within 30 days. 

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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