A surprising development on Wednesday has raised new questions about President Obama’s nominee to be the new Labor Secretary.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez is one of the nominees over whom Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) just staged his filibuster fight. As a result of the deal Reid worked out with Republican Senators, Perez was supposed to get a confirmation vote today. He cleared a procedural vote in the Senate yesterday as six Republicans broke ranks to vote him through.
Perez has faced questions about his misleading congressional testimony about his involvement in a quid pro quo deal with the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, that resulted in the dismissal of a Supreme Court case and taxpayers giving up a claim worth almost $200 million. He has refused to turn over private emails that he used to conduct Justice Department business and has refused to testify before the House despite a congressional subpoena. But apparently, that’s not all.
Now, David Weber, a lawyer representing current and former employees of the Civil Rights Division, which Perez oversaw, has sent out a press release accusing Perez of “substantial misconduct.” The employees, who are claiming whistleblower status, met with the staffs of Republican and Democratic Senators and turned over evidence of “disparate impact discrimination under the leadership of Mr. Perez.” This is significant because “disparate impact” is Perez’s favored legal theory—he has used it to pursue numerous businesses and other defendants in federal discrimination lawsuits.
The whistleblowers claim that Perez and his senior staff “began a widespread campaign” of discriminatory treatment against disabled employees as well as other employees “based on race; gender; age; and/or parental status.” The employees who opposed this discrimination were “subjected to an exceptionally hostile work environment and unlawful retaliation.” The whistleblowers include African-American, Hispanic, and female employees.
What is most startling in the allegations is the reason given for the discrimination: “the Perez actions were directed at preserving the positions of political appointees who have ‘burrowed’ into [the] Civil Rights Division through Perez’s patronage.”
“Burrowing in” is the term used in Washington to describe political appointees who have been placed in protected, career-bureaucrat, civil service positions—so they cannot be fired when an administration is over and the President leaves office, as happens to all other political appointees. Apparently, the fiscal constraints placed on his division through the budget crisis led to Perez directing his staff to “constructively terminate career staff in order to protect the political appointees from a Reduction in Force.”
The press release also says that there are 10 other DOJ civil rights officials who “have come forward as witnesses and provided corroborating information supporting these allegations.”
Attorney David Weber minces no words in saying that while Perez “has been nominated to be the protector of the American workforce,” his clients have told Congress that Perez “rampantly discriminates against its own workforce, and retaliates against those brave enough to raise their hand.”
The claims made by these whistleblowers against Perez and his senior management are extremely serious. Weber asks that Congress investigate and “hold Mr. Perez’ nomination pending investigation.” He also asks Attorney General Eric Holder to “take immediate steps to curtail the discrimination and retaliation.”
Holder has been saying a great deal in the last week about the Justice Department’s investigation of George Zimmerman for possible civil rights violations. It sounds like he needs to redirect that investigation into his own Civil Rights Division.
If the Senate now goes ahead with a vote on Perez’s confirmation before it has investigated these shocking claims, it will have ignored its “advise and consent” role that requires it to review in-depth the qualifications—and character—of senior executive branch officers.