Drug Enforcement Agency 'Repeatedly, Purposefully' Discriminated Against Women Agents

After a 20-year fight, retired DEA agent Ann Garcia said she feels vindicated.

ByABC News
May 25, 2011, 5:20 PM

May 26, 2011 -- It took her 20 years, but Ann Garcia, a retired special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, finally won her battle against her former employer.

In 1992, Garcia brought a lawsuit against the DEA, arguing that she and some 200 other female agents had tried repeatedly to obtain plum overseas assignments but were blocked because the agency discriminated against them based on their sex.

Late last month, a federal administrative judge ruled that the DEA had "repeatedly and purposefully" discriminated against the class of female agents in the early '90s, and that the women had been treated less favorably than their male counterparts at the DEA.

The case was pending for two decades at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination in the private and federal sectors.

Garcia couldn't believe it took so long for the judge to rule on the merits of the case.

"It's been going on for almost 20 years," said Garcia. "The women of DEA suffered blatant discrimination in the workplace for years, decades. The ruling is a testament to the strength and the courage of many DEA agents who refused to accept the status quo."

In her ruling, Administrative Judge Frances del Toro wrote, "Although many qualified females applied for overseas positions, males were routinely selected over equally or better qualified female agents."

The judge pointed to the testimony of a male agent who was involved in selecting agents for foreign positions, saying his testimony constituted "direct evidence of discriminatory intent and supports a finding that there was a pattern of discrimination."

Del Toro said that the underrepresentation of women in foreign posts had been "repeatedly" brought to the attention of supervisors charged with determining who would serve abroad.

At the time, the DEA maintained more than 70 foreign offices in approximately 50 countries around the world.

The evidence presented at trial included testimony that female agents were told they should be home having babies, and if they wanted to travel overseas they should "stop getting pregnant."

Lawrence R. Payne, a spokesman for the DEA, issued a statement that acknowledged the ruling that found that the DEA had discriminated against the class of women who "between 1990 and 1992" had applied for but were not selected for positions in DEA's overseas offices. Payne declined to answer further questions regarding the judge's ruling.

Privacy laws at the EEOC restrict public access to trial motions or transcripts.

"The judge's ruling was restricted to 1990 to 1992, but we know that discrimination went on before and after those years," said Cathy Harris, Garcia's attorney from the firm Kator Parks & Weiser.

Garcia said that she joined the DEA in 1983 with the hope that when her husband, a Denver police officer, retired she could apply for an overseas position.

"We had this dream," she said. But when she began to apply for these positions she was puzzled that managers in Washington, D.C., kept asking if her husband would support her decision.

"In my case I didn't have children, I wasn't single, so they focused on my husband," she said. "At one point they asked me, 'What if he leaves you over there?'"

She then learned that other women were facing the same resistance. "My eyes were opened about how the women of DEA where treated throughout the company."