A federal judge in Texas, ruling in a class action suit brought by Hispanic FBI agents, ordered the bureau Friday to make changes in an "unsystematic, excessively subjective" method of promotion that discriminates against Hispanics.
U.S. District Court Judge Lucius D. Bunton of Midland ordered the FBI to review on a case-by-case basis the treatment of about 200 of the Hispanic agents in the case who have been with the bureau seven years or longer to determine whether promotions are necessary to restore them to their "rightful place" - the supervisory level at which they would be were it not for the discriminatory treatment.He also ordered changes in bureau promotion procedures to make them more objective, including requiring FBI "career boards" that make promotion recommendations to keep careful records of their discussions and forbidding special agents in charge of FBI field offices to overrule their decisions.
However, Bunton declined to institute more sweeping remedies, including awarding back pay or imposing promotion quotas. "The imposition of quotas or preferential promotion are drastic remedies which should be ordered only upon a showing that the discriminating employer has resisted less intrusive reforms," Bunton said in a 55-page opinion.
Bunton's ruling determining damages represents the second phase of a class action suit by more than 300 former or current Hispanic FBI agents. Bunton found last year that the FBI had systematically discriminated against Hispanic agents in promotions and working conditions, routinely relegating them to such "deplored assignments" as monitoring Spanish-speaking wiretaps or working undercover.
He also found that the FBI had illegally retaliated against the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Bernardo M. Perez of El Paso, Texas, for filing the complaint. Friday, Bunton denied Perez's request for monetary compensation for mental anguish and other damages but ordered the bureau to give him "responsibilities commensurate with his experience and training."
Bunton directed the bureau to report to the court every 90 days until Perez, once the special agent in charge (SAC) of the San Juan, Puerto Rico, office, is made an SAC again or given an equivalent position.
Perez applauded Bunton's order on damages Friday. "We're very pleased," he said. "It's going to make terrific changes . . . Giving us money or taking care of a particular individual does not fix anything, but when you change the system, these are the important moves."
He said the career board changes are "very significant because that is the very heart of the good old boy network . . . What was said in the smoke-filled rooms was not reported. The SAC would promote his friends and favorites." The order, Perez said, "gives us objectivity. It gives us oversight."
FBI Director William S. Sessions said in a statement that the bureau "is looking with care at Judge Bun-ton's ruling with an eye toward building further on the many improvements already undertaken in the FBI's personnel practices."
While Bunton's ruling last year represented a major setback for the FBI, Friday's decision imposed fairly limited remedies and was milder in tone. Bunton commended the bureau for having taken "significant steps since the date of trial to correct the disparate conditions of employment," particularly for lower-level agents.
"These and other reforms demonstrate energetic and good faith effort to correct the disparities found by this court," he said.