By Tim Devaney - 06/18/14 07:23 PM EDT
A former employee of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Wednesday compared the workplace atmosphere to a “plantation,” because of how black employees such as himself were treated.
In the third House Financial Services subcommittee hearing to address claims of discrimination against the CFPB, Kevin Williams, a former quality assurance monitor at the agency, painted a picture where black employees were constantly belittled – even to the point where they were stereotypically offered fried chicken at company lunches.
“I was a charter member in the intake unit, which, indeed, came to be referred to as the 'plantation,'” Williams testified. “There, I personally witnessed and was the victim of racial discrimination perpetrated by black as well as white managers. The unit was dubbed the 'plantation,' because when we started, the majority of black employees were assigned to intake, which was basically data entry.”
After the team's one white employee was transferred to another division, “someone then remarked that this looked like a 'damn plantation,' and the nickname stuck,” Williams added.
Williams left the CFPB in February after facing what he said was several years of discrimination from the federal agency tasked with protecting consumers.
Republicans on the committee were shocked, with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) referring to the alleged discrimination as “language that I won't even repeat.”
“When you see it, you know it, and that's racism,” Duffy said.
But Democrats on the committee have suggested that this is just the latest ploy by Republicans to undermine the CFPB.
Ranking Member Al Green (D-Texas) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) both ranted against racism, but seemed dismissive of the specific claims against the CFPB. At one point late in the hearing, Green began shouting at the witnesses.
“I have learned that until you hear both sides of a story you cannot draw conclusions,” Green said.
Williams was joined at the hearing by Ali Naraghi, who still works as an examiner for the CFPB's southeast division, and also complained of discrimination.
Naraghi called it a “humiliating experience” and said working for the CFPB is a “living hell.”
“Their retaliation against me continues to this day,” he told lawmakers.
“Unfortunately, the (CFPB's southeast division) is run by intimidation and, like a dictatorship, there are significant consequences for disagreeing or disobeying the king,” he added.
Both of the witnesses suggested that many CFPB managers who were black could get away with treating their employees poorly.
“If anybody makes a complaint about racism, they put them under a minority manager, in their mind thinking, 'Well, the African American manager cannot be biased, because he's a person of color,'” Naraghi said. “You know what I'm saying?”