Washington Eight current or former Secret Service agents who are black charged Wednesday that top officials are dragging their feet on ridding the agency of deep-rooted racial discrimination, which they said has also infected Vice President Al Gore's protective detail.
The group, part of the 38 black agents who have filed sworn declarations in federal court, appealed to Gore for help in getting the service to sit down with them to discuss a class-action lawsuit that they and others filed in May.
-Jon Relman, an attorney representing the agents
"These problems go back 27 years and more," said John Relman, an attorney representing the agents. "But the Secret Service is in complete denial and (it is) stonewalling us. It's not fair to the men and women who are risking their lives every day for the president and vice president."
Special Agent Myron Smith, an 11-year veteran, gave an account that paralleled several others. Smith said he resigned from the Secret Service last August as a member of Gore's security detail "in part because of the racially discriminatory policies and practices that had damaged my career track."
Because of his race, said Smith, he was "routinely denied" the opportunity to take management training courses that were necessary for promotion. Earlier in his career, he said, in both the San Francisco and Phoenix field offices, he was "subjected to racial harassment and a hostile work environment."
Jim Kennedy, Gore's press secretary, responded that "other than what he has read about the lawsuit, the vice president has not personally been aware of any allegations of discrimination."
Said Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin: "These matters are currently before the court and we feel that's the appropriate place to address the claims. However, we're proud of our record on diversity."
Two of the service's seven assistant directors are black, as well as four of its 11 field office supervisors, Mackin said. In addition, 40 percent of the whip (senior) positions on the vice president's detail are held by female and minority special agents, he said.
Jenell Walker-Clark, another former agent who is black, told reporters that she experienced a "racially hostile environment" during her six years with the service. She left the agency in 1996 to become a deputy inspector general at the Small Business Administration.
Walker said that, while assigned to then-Gov. Clinton's protective detail in the 1992 presidential campaign, she was subjected to racially derogatory comments from a supervisor such as "blacks cannot be trusted" and "how many of your family members are in jail?"
Reginald Moore, an agent for 16 years, told reporters: "We're talking about a systemwide problem that has to be fixed." Moore, who protected President Clinton from 1994 to 1999, said he was denied numerous promotions even though he received high marks for job performance.
David Shaffer, another attorney representing the agents, said that a black agent was promoted to Gore's protective detail in June after a Secret Service inspection report confirmed some of the plaintiffs' charges of racial bias.
"They're putting a Band-Aid on the problem to try to resolve it," said Special Agent Leroy Hendrix, one of the lead plaintiffs.
Filed on behalf of about 250 agents who have worked at the Treasury Department agency since the early 1970s, the lawsuit seeks as much as $300,000 per agent and back pay for those who were unfairly denied promotions.
Complainants also have demanded that the Secret Service crack down on racist remarks from supervisors and other workers and change how evaluations, job assignments, promotions and transfers are carried out.