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Meeting of October 23, 2008 – Issues Facing Hispanics in the Federal Workplace

Statement of Bernardo M. Perez, Class Representative in Perez, et al. v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

Good Morning. Madame Chairperson, and Members of the EEOC Commission.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today on ‘The Realities and Barriers Faced by Hispanics in the Federal Sector’.

September 30th marked the 20th Anniversary of the Federal Court decision in the landmark class-action civil rights case, entitled Bernardo M. Pérez, Plaintiff v. Federal Bureau of Investigation et al., Defendants.

Sam Martinez, a retired FBI Agent, and leader in that fight is here today --- and so is my friend, Nelson Hermilla, Department of Justice Attorney, who boldly took me up to Capitol Hill, after I filed the lawsuit, to seek support for the battle.

Senators Joe Biden and Orin Hatch helped us --- along with John Conyers and other members of Congress. Some Congressional leaders such as former Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez were afraid to get involved. And America’s two largest national Hispanic organizations – LULAC and MALDEF – refused to help.

Federal Judge Lucius D. Bunton, heard the case -- and ruled that the FBI systemically discriminated against me and 310 other Hispanic Special Agents. He also found, separately, that the FBI retaliated against me for filing nine EEO Complaints.

He then ruled that then FBI Director William Webster’s EEO Program and the FBI promotion system were “bankrupt”. Webster was not punished… and subsequently became Director of the CIA. No one was held responsible, ultimately for the FBI’s failures. And the consequences went beyond the lawsuit class members…

Richard Yerby, Leo Ramos and George Rodríguez, my Attorneys in the unsuccessful EEO hearing, before the trial, went unpaid. The EEO Judge found no discrimination.

My successful trial Attorneys Hugo Rodríguez and Antonio Silva –- after a long and intense legal effort – suffered devastating family turmoil – and went bankrupt.

The Bureau forced my then fiancée, Yvonne Shaffer, to submit to illegal polygraph examinations to elicit information they hoped to use against me. She quit the FBI. Director Webster ordered me not to date her. I married her and the FBI came after me in different ways as part of their campaign to force my resignation.

I had investigated Klan cross-burnings in Florida, police brutality cases in Texas, and other civil rights violations… But I refused to accept and admit that discrimination existed at “my” beloved FBI. I even argued with my own father and insisted that the FBI was “incapable” of discrimination: But, I finally came to understand a painful truth – He was right, I was wrong.

My brave wife, a former FBI stenographer was the catalyst for that fight. She made me realize that by ignoring discrimination against Hispanics at the FBI, I was sacrificing my ethics to justify continuing my career.

My career was dying and when I finally filed my first EEO Complaint. That was the “last straw” for the FBI who had graciously allowed this Latino into the world’s ‘premier’ investigative organization.

I was among the elite when I became an Agent in 1963 under J. Edgar Hoover. There were fewer than ten Latino Agents out of approximately seven thousand FBI Agents.

Filing an individual EEO Complaint against the Bureau was unheard of. To follow it with a class-action lawsuit from 310 of the 452 Latino Agents in the FBI outraged Bureau executives and most other Agents. Many FBI Officials demanded that Director Sessions not let this case go to trial. This demand was made in my presence. I was called disloyal because we had openly charged the FBI with discrimination. We knew our rights as American citizens were meaningless unless we stood up and demanded equal treatment under the law and the right to be promoted fairly.

It was not a matter of loyalty; it was a matter of justice.

After we prevailed in Federal Court in El Paso, Texas, I was “promoted” to the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and, reluctantly, the FBI complied with Judge Bunton’s Order to promote me to an SES 4 position. My boss had to be promoted first, because he was only an SES 3.

After a year and a half at Headquarters, where I was the ‘invisible man’, I threatened to sue the FBI again for continuing discrimination and retaliation against the class members. We were worse off than before the lawsuit. I was involuntarily demoted to SES 3 (can this happen?) and transferred to the field as the Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division. Other FBI Officials returned to the Field with their SES rank intact.

Five years later, in 1995, after 33 years of FBI service, I retired but I still feel the sting of recrimination for having filed suit against the FBI. My story is not unique, but tragically, it is representative of what happened to most class-action members and their careers.

Because we prevailed in the lawsuit, open retaliation accelerated with a vengeance and to this very day we are punished. Class-members were denied court-ordered rightful place seniority and subsequently we retired at lower grades than those ordered by Judge Bunton, who died in January, 2001.

The FBI internal affairs office, known as the Office of Professional Responsibility, conducted more than sixteen investigations against San Antonio Supervisor Gil Mireles (one of my brave EEO Counselors); but couldn’t find any wrong-doing. Gil was added to the long list of those Agents forced out of the FBI for demanding their rights as Americans. Ironically, the FBI is responsible for investigating violations of civil rights laws in the United States. Who guards the guards? Is it you, the EEOC and Congress, or does the FBI answer to anyone? Apparently, not.

After the trial, FBI leaders deliberately disregarded Judge Bunton’s orders to fix the ‘bankrupt’ EEO process and the Promotion System in the FBI.

Predictably, those Hispanic Agents who testified at trial – falsely- that the FBI did not discriminate… were among the first to be promoted after the ruling.

Shortly after my assignment to the FBI Lab, I made eighty-eight (88) allegations of perjury and wrong-doing by top FBI Officials during the trial. Director Sessions was unaware. The subsequent two-year investigation into these charges by Inspector Dennis Curry and John Shiman has been lost by FBI. Those FBI Officials who testified falsely and retaliated against us were promoted, given plush assignments and retired at high SES levels. Director William Sessions had been fired in part for letting Pérez v. FBI go to trial.

The lead members of the ‘successful’ battle against discrimination are all retired now and we loyal Americans pay every day for defending our Constitutional rights. Would we do it again? YES, we had no choice. Latinos in the FBI continue the battle that we started. Regrettably, this battle is far from over. It continues in the FBI and throughout our Federal Government and our Nation. Just listen to the news!

You conduct studies and wonder why more Hispanics don’t pursue careers in the Federal service. Perhaps this will give you some insight into ‘The Realities and Barriers Faced by Hispanics in the Federal Sector’.