A top House Democrat on Wednesday warned the Trump administration that a decision to relocate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staffers from Washington would decrease diversity and likely open the agency to discrimination lawsuits.
In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) warned that by failing to study how a forced relocation of staff could affect the agency’s diversity, the BLM was opening itself up to a legal challenge.
With a significant portion of D.C.-based employees expected to reject the job transfer and instead leave the BLM, he argued that diversity at the agency will plummet.
“If there is a disparate impact on any protected class of employees, the agency would be exposed to significant legal liability that could rival the cost of the entire relocation,” Grijalva wrote.
“DOI [Department of the Interior] could be sued by its own employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," he continued. "Without an analysis showing the proposed reorganization would not have a disparate impact, or would serve a legitimate, non-discriminatory business need, BLM’s vulnerability to a successful lawsuit would increase dramatically.
"It would be reckless for DOI to fail to perform such an analysis," he added.
BLM's Deputy Director William Perry Pendley pushed back on Grijalva's allegations saying in a statement: "Shame on him."
"Chairman Grijalva is wrong in insinuating that the BLM has failed to meet its obligations under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and insulting in his implications that Westerners are hostile to BLM’s Black/African-American employees or would be unwelcoming to people of diverse backgrounds. Shame on him.
"Unlike Chairman Grijalva's point of view, we selected individuals to fill positions out west based on their skills, knowledge, abilities and expertise."
Grijalva in his letter further argued that those who do move to the BLM’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., or elsewhere in the West will be in less diverse communities.
“Many of the positions targeted for relocation will be moved to states and communities where the total Black/African-American population is significantly smaller,” Grijalva wrote.
“Given DOI’s persistent struggle to increase diversity in its workforce, further isolating Black/African-American employees by asking them to choose between uprooting their lives and their families and moving to areas with a spare Black/African American population or terminating their BLM employment is counterproductive and unacceptable," he continued.
Employees who do choose to move are being offered a 25 percent incentive bonus and 90 days to move, while those who don’t accept the reassignment could receive a voluntary separation incentive payment.
However, it’s not clear if the department has the funding to offer either type of payment. Lawmakers have thus far blocked funding for the move in next year’s budget.
This letter has been updated.