Days after LGBTQ employees at the US Department of Justice called out a hostile work environment, Attorney General William Barr responded by signing an Equal Employment Opportunity statement and directing the FBI and the federal Bureau of Prisons to investigate allegations of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Barr took action after receiving a letter on March 27 from DOJ Pride, which represents DOJ employees and its contractors, pointing out the lack of an EEO statement as well as low morale and discrimination against the department’s LGBTQ employees. That letter revealed the results of an October survey, taken during the tenure of Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, showing that only 31 percent of DOJ Pride’s members believed the department valued its LGBTQ employees.
Among the comments revealed through the survey included allegations of discrimination against gay and Latinx agents at the FBI Academy, while another comment said the department’s lack of an EEO statement made it “difficult and demoralizing not knowing if your employer really believes LGBTQ people should have antidiscrimination protections or not.”
In his April 4 response, Barr attached the signed EEO statement and said decisions about employees at the DOJ “must be made solely on merit and free from discrimination. Every employee should know that I stand by that principle.”
He further said he was “troubled” to hear about concerns raised in the survey and ordered the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons to “take appropriate action to investigate and address allegations of discrimination and prevent it going forward.”
Barr asked DOJ Pride to assist in identifying those issues when they arise and to work with the department’s leadership on creating solutions. In the initial letter, DOJ Pride had expressed an eager desire to help, saying that its members were “ready to assist in any way we can.”
When reached on April 8, a DOJ Pride spokesperson declined comment on Barr’s letter.
In an April 2 statement to Gay City News when asked about the DOJ Pride letter, a spokesperson for the department said it was committed to “implementing policies that will ensure equal employment opportunity.” The EEO statement, which Barr signed two days later, includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and vowed “swift and appropriate corrective and/ or disciplinary action” when employees engage in discrimination, retaliation, or harassment, including sexual harassment.
“I know that these steps are not a cure-all,” Barr concluded in his letter. “But I believe that they are important, and I think you for bringing these matters to my attention. Please know that your input is always welcome. I hope that you and DOJ Pride will continue to help me and Department leadership in ensuring the Department is an inclusive and productive workplace for all employees.”