Uncivil Rites

Intrigue, inaction and personnel disputes have one federal agency at war with itself. Can't we all just get along?

Yet the outcome of the case incensed the OCR's critics. Although Aguilar's punishment was hardly a token gesture--it amounted to a substantial drop in annual salary, from $87,000 to $62,000--other OCR employees had been fired for less, including Jimmy Lovato, whom Kyle-Holmes had sought to terminate over much pettier (and shakier) allegations. Worse, Aguilar was allowed to go on a flexible work schedule that requires him to be in the office only two days a week. (Kyle-Holmes says she had approved the work-at-home arrangement before Aguilar's case was resolved and then tried to rescind it, but the union protested and the arrangement was upheld.)

Some observers felt the case didn't go far enough. Claxton says he told the investigators that Aguilar could not have accessed the time and attendance records without clearance from a superior and that he had evidence that Aguilar had accessed other people's records as well, including those of the regional manager. Kyle-Holmes denies ever giving permission to Aguilar to alter the records or having any knowledge that it was done, but Claxton insists, "There's no way she could have been unaware of it."

Claxton left the OCR in 1996 for a position as a management analyst in another branch of HHS's Denver offices, the Administrative Operations Service. But he continues to be active in OCR personnel matters as a union steward, and he claims that Kyle-Holmes has continued to retaliate against him. He says he was up for a promotion in the spring of 1997 when the Washington official who was reviewing his work met with Kyle-Holmes.

"After his conversation with her, all of a sudden my paperwork gets lost in personnel," he says. "This woman is working to destroy my career, even after I left her office."

Far from receiving a promotion, Claxton was subsequently removed from his duties running the AOS data center. He says he was told that there was a promotion freeze (which he says didn't exist), then that AOS was restructuring its Denver on-site support. He's now earning his $39,000-a-year salary in an area of the operation that he considers overstaffed while AOS brought in an outside contractor to do his previous job at a cost of $100,000 a year.

"They're doing this to deny me a promotion that would have paid me an extra two thousand dollars a year," he says.

Kyle-Holmes says she can't discuss the details of Claxton's case because it's still open, but she denies any mistreatment of him. "I did not retaliate against Jeff Claxton," she says. "I did not discriminate against him in any way. I have had nothing to do with his situation, whatever it is, at the agency where he works now."

But Westword obtained a copy of an e-mail message, purportedly from Kyle-Holmes to the Washington official who was reviewing Claxton's work, in which she said in part, "Because of your visit, I do not expect the undue delays, sarcasm and racial discrimination I have endured in the past...thank you for your quick response to my complaints about AOS, particularly Jeff Claxton."

Claxton's allegations of retaliation have gone to binding arbitration; he says a settlement is pending. Other cases continue to drag through the system--notably, that of Gary Schuler, who was hired by the OCR as an investigator in 1992 and now finds himself demoted two grades, in a dead-end job with no opportunity for promotion.

According to an EEOC investigator's report, Schuler received a satisfactory evaluation after his first year on the job. A female co-worker who was hired at the same time and who also was rated satisfactory received a promotion, but Schuler did not. He filed a grievance over the matter and was placed on a "performance improvement plan"--the standards for which, he claims, were geared to a higher-level employee. Over the course of the plan, Schuler says, his supervisor harassed him over minor issues.

A Vietnam veteran, Schuler says the supervisor--the same woman whom Lovato claimed had a "problem" with men and who has since passed away--asked him inappropriate questions and held him to different standards than those that applied to female staffers. "She asked me one time if I'd ever smoked marijuana," he recalls. "She asked me how I felt about killing people."

He adds that Kyle-Holmes declined his requests to be assigned to another supervisor and never provided any records that indicated she was reviewing his work as the performance plan required. Finally, he was given a choice of resigning or accepting a demotion to a position that, while it carried many of the same responsibilities, offered no promotion potential. Schuler took the demotion--and has been stuck there ever since, earning satisfactory to excellent evaluations.

"I'm not going to resign," he says. "I have some other time in the federal government, and jobs aren't too easy to find, especially when you're 48 years old. But the fact is, unless you're a female, you don't do well in this office."

Schuler's EEOC complaint is now awaiting a response from OCR headquarters in Washington. Kyle-Holmes says she can't discuss the case because it involves an ongoing personnel matter.

The impact of all the internal backbiting on the OCR's ability to investigate discrimination outside the office is difficult to gauge. For years the small group of activists who call themselves the Hispanic Public Affairs Committee have complained to officials that the regional office is shortchanging the Hispanic community, but Kyle-Holmes dismisses the criticism as a personal "smear campaign" generated by one of HISPAC's most prominent members, Jimmy Lovato.

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