Attorney general orders investigation of LGBTQ discrimination claims

William Barr’s letter marks a stark contrast from Jeff Sessions, who took steps to roll back protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Image: President Donald Trump Participates In Prison Reform Summit And First Step Act Celebration At The White House
Attorney General William Barr attends a First Step Act celebration in the East Room of the White House April 1, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
By Tim Fitzsimons

U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered an investigation into the Department of Justice’s treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff following a complaint from DOJ Pride, its LGBTQ employee resource group.

In an April 4 letter to DOJ Pride released Friday, Barr said he was “troubled” by the group’s concerns, which were raised in a March 27 open letter. He said he directed the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons to “investigate and address allegations of discrimination.”

“Employment decisions at the Department must be made solely on merit and free from discrimination," Barr wrote.

Along with his letter, Barr also released an overdue Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statement declaring that no department employee or applicant should face discrimination over race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability (physical or mental), gender identity, protected genetic information, pregnancy, status as a parent, marital status, political affiliation, or any other nonmerit-based factor.

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Among DOJ Pride's concerns, as noted in its letter, was that Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, had failed to issue an EEO statement, which is required of employers under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Prior to Barr's April 4 EEO issuance, the most recent such statement had been issued under the Obama administration. DOJ Pride said this, and other DOJ moves on LGBTQ rights, had led to low morale and resignations of LGBTQ staff.

“Issuing the statement is not only required by law — as you noted in your letter — it is the right thing to do,” Barr wrote in his response to DOJ Pride.

Barr’s letter marked a stark contrast from Sessions, who on several occasions took steps to roll back protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Citing a November 2018 survey of its members, DOJ Pride stated "morale is low among LGBTQ individuals currently employed in the Department" and the "Department is not recruiting and retaining top LGBTQ talent."

The letter also quoted one member who anonymously wrote in the survey: "It's difficult and demoralizing not knowing if your employer really believes LGBTQ people should have antidiscrimination protections."

Another comment stated: “Please do something about the FBI’s unfair evaluation process at the FBI Academy. There are many gay agents attending that are dismissed because they are not ‘bro-y’ or masculine enough.”

DOJ Pride said its survey found only 31 percent of members agreed that the Justice Department “values its LGBTQ employees,” and less than 10 percent agreed that the department "attracts and retains the best LGBTQ talent.”

“These statistics and statements point toward a set of issues the Department must address, including morale, recruitment, retention, and fair treatment,” the letter stated. It was signed by the president and board directors of DOJ Pride, who work in divisions across the Justice Department.

The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment, and DOJ Pride declined to comment further.

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Reuters contributed.