A federal judge in Washington has sanctioned the U.S. Secret Service for stonewalling plaintiffs in a race discrimination case against the agency.
The judge concluded that the plaintiffs have "established a prima facie case of discriminatory non promotion" because of the agency's repeated misconduct in not producing documents and that the agency must pay the plaintiffs' legal fees for the related motions for sanctions.
In a prima facie case, the evidence presented by the plaintiff is the first step in the process, after which the defense has an opportunity to rebut the allegations.
The lawsuit, filed nearly a decade ago against the service on behalf of more than 100 current and former black agents, alleges that managers discriminated against them when they considered promotions.
The suit has revealed that senior managers at the service circulated e-mails with apparently racist imagery and messages, which the plaintiffs claimed were a manifestation of the discriminatory culture of the agency.
In an opinion issued Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson blasted the Secret Service for making "a mockery" of the evidence-gathering rules of the court during evidentiary hearings earlier this year.
Robinson wrote that testimony of agency managers and agents "virtually mandates a finding that [the Secret Service's] noncompliance with the applicable rules and orders was willful" and that the agency defied court orders and rules in an attempt to justify the release of only the files it "was inclined to produce."
She wrote in her opinion that the service "failed to persuade the court" that it "diligently or reasonable searched" for documents responsive to the plaintiffs' requests, which violated court rules.
Later in her opinion, Robinson stated that the failure to produce the requested evidence prevented the plaintiffs' attorneys from preparing their case. She also found that the evidence brought forth by the service is "unpersuasive, inconsistent and exemplary of the inadequacy of defendant's search efforts."
Robinson wrote in her opinion that the "recalcitrance" of the service during the discovery phase of the case, during which it was expected to produce evidence in a timely fashion, remains "the most prominent feature of the record" in the case.
The Secret Service, which has denied the claims in the lawsuit, issued a statement on the ruling late Thursday afternoon noting that the case "is a long way from over" and that the agency "wholly disagrees with the magistrate's findings."
"The Secret Service has over a number of years made every attempt to respond fully and completely to all discovery requests, and the magistrate's orders," according to the statement. "Any assertion that we have been anything but responsive and forthright is just inaccurate."
Friday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., challenged the service's assertions and expressed concern about the judge's findings.
In a letter to U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, Thompson said the agency's stance that it responded "fully and completely" is "hard for me to believe in light of the court's substantive findings to the contrary."