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CFPB employees: Workplace discrimination getting worse, leadership absent

Retaliation against CFPB employees called “a fact”

The House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing Thursday and heard shocking new evidence from employees of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about discrimination and retaliation at their workplace.

The Committee first began investigating allegations of widespread discrimination and retaliation against CFPB employees in April of 2014. What they heard today from CFPB employees is that it’s actually gotten worse since then

Thursday’s hearing was the fourth at which CFPB employees testified about discrimination and retaliation at the regulatory bureau.

The charge is that the CFPB has an abysmal track record of ongoing discrimination, retaliation and fostering an insensitive, toxic workplace — and that it's getting worse.

At two other hearings, committee members directed questions about the employees’ allegations and the CFPB’s unacceptable workplace environment to the Bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, who promised to take action.

"Of all the federal financial agencies, the CFPB has the worst track record of protecting its own employees against discrimination. The per capita number of Equal Employment Opportunity complaints at the CFPB is far higher than at other federal agencies," said Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Sean Duffy, R-Wisconsin. "Despite disturbing reports of low morale and Congressional investigations, the leadership at the CFPB continues to turn a blind eye to the treatment of its own people." 

"The CFPB is more concerned with bad press than the underlying problem, and has done little more than run an ineffective internal PR campaign to assuage employee concerns," Duffy said.

The witnesses were Florine Williams, a career professional with over 20 years of Equal Employment Opportunity experience who currently serves as a Senior Equal Employment Specialist in the Office of Civil Rights at the CFPB, and Robert Cauldwell, a CFPB examiner who currently serves as President of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 335 (which represents CFPB employees), where he says he observed widespread problems. 

During portions of the hearing, committee members seemed more intent on arguing amongst themselves than hearing from the witnesses.

Democrats on the committee did their level best to turn the focus away from the victims of discrimination and retaliation at the CFPB, and turned to allegations of discrimination against banking institutions based on numerical estimates.

Republicans, meanwhile, noted that discrimination by banks is the proper purview of the Department of Justice, while oversight of the CFPB is the proper role for the House Financial Services Committee.

Accusations of insensitivity and racism flew from one side of the committee while accusations of trying to cover up incompetence, mismanagement and a toxic culture at the CFPB flew from the other.

Each side pounded its chest about its commitment to ending discrimination.

The testimony from the two witnesses revealed that despite the hearings in 2014 and the urgings to Cordray to fix the problem, over the past year this unacceptable behavior has gotten worse.

The evidence offered by witnesses suggests that a culture of discrimination and retaliation still permeates the CFPB, showing – Republicans on the committee say – the need for greater accountability and oversight of the agency in order to ensure that serious issues such as these are addressed effectively and promptly.

“CFPB employees proudly serve their country, and they deserve the Bureau to treat them in a fair and consistent manner, just like the CFPB expects financial businesses to treat consumers. Unfortunately, the CFPB has not lived up to its own standards,” Williams said. “The word ‘allegations’ should be removed from this hearing’s title – discrimination and retaliation against CPFB employees is a fact. The CFPB’s management, all the way to the very top, has not exhibited the leadership, compassion, or skills needed to satisfactorily achieve the mission set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act.

“Director Cordray’s inaction over the past year has created a more discriminatory, challenging, and intimidating workplace for CFPB employees,” she said.

Cauldwell was equally damning in his testimony.

“Never until my employment at the CFPB have I witnessed such blatant and willful disregard for the law, merit system principles, and the well-being of its employees,” he said. “Because of the CFPB’s mission, I believed I was joining an EEO program where the rule of law was respected, and the workforce would be treated with civility, dignity, and professionalism. Unfortunately, my experience at the Bureau has been a radical departure from the 32 years that preceded it.

“It is disheartening that after three Congressional hearings and nearly two years of my attempts to address these issues internally that no appreciable progress has been made,” he said.

House Republicans said that the failure of leadership at CFPB is reason to rethink how the bureau is structured.

“To strengthen the CFPB and limit the occurrence for future discrimination and retaliation, Congress should quickly move forward my bill to replace the Bureau’s Director with a bipartisan five-person commission appointed by the President,” said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas. “This is a bipartisan bill and we must work together in a bipartisan manner to address the most troubling matters raised by these brave whistle-blowers and bring some much-needed structural reforms to make the CFPB more accountable to both its employees and the American people.”

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