Justice Under Fire for Lack of Diversity

The Department of Justice is under fire for its lack of diversity. Former DOJ employee Teresa Lynn says she left after 33 years on the job because of the lack of diversity and what she felt was a hostile work environment. Lynn speaks with NPR's Farai Chideya about working there.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Controversy continues at the U.S. Department of Justice. Yesterday, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced he was going to resign in the wake of the U.S. attorney firing scandal.

Now some African-American employees of the DOJ Civil Rights Division are criticizing the department for not hiring minorities. In the Voting Rights section alone, according to former section chief Joe Rich, only two of the current 35 attorneys are black.

Teresa Lynn was a civil rights analyst for the department for 33 years. She retired last year frustrated and disillusioned but not before sending a fiery goodbye email to fellow staff. Teresa recently told me why she decided to leave after so long on the job.

Ms. TERESA LYNN (Former Civil Rights Analyst, Department of Justice): I was at a point where I didn't think I could do my job, and I was at a point where I felt as though whatever I did would be scrutinized to the point of always finding fault. Had the changes not occurred, I probably would have worked there another five to 10 years.

CHIDEYA: So I'm going to cut straight to the chase. You said here, on your last day, an email to the entire staff: I leave with fond memories of the voting section I once knew, and I am gladly escaping the plantation it has become. For my colleagues still under the whip, hold on; the times they are changing.

Now, those are some very direct words. What made you say that, and who was it aimed towards?

Ms. LYNN: Well, it was aimed toward the management of the section, both the section chief and the deputy section chief for Section Five. The atmosphere had become one of, oh, mistrust among some of us. There was control, there was fear of retaliation, and there was a disparate treatment of the analysts based on race.

CHIDEYA: Your voting section now only has two black attorneys. Did you watch the people who left leave?

Ms. LYNN: Yes.

CHIDEYA: Were you shocked at the numbers that remained?

Ms. LYNN: I don't even know that these remained. They may have been hired after I left, because I was trying to think of one that was there when I left in December of this past year. Yeah, I watched them one by one trying to hang in there, and I guess they thought things might change. I'm not sure. But after a while, they knew they weren't and everybody started to leave, both black and more liberal white attorneys.

CHIDEYA: So what about the ways that people were hired? You had people leaving the Department of Justice, what was the new crop of people who generally came in?

Ms. LYNN: Well, I didn't have anything to do with the hiring process, didn't know very much about what went on with that. But I do know that for years our attorneys were hired under the attorney general's Honors Program and that they came from top-flight law schools and usually had some civil rights experience or at least an interest in enforcing civil rights law.

I know that the new crop has just the opposite. They're not from very good law schools and they have no interest in civil rights enforcement.

CHIDEYA: What did your co-workers say when they got your email? What kinds of responses did you get?

Ms. LYNN: I got a lot of high-fives. I, well, I wasn't - I left after I sent the email. I got a lot of high-fives, people, you know, telling me they were very appreciative that I did that. But my supervisors disabled my computer the next day so that I would not be able to send out any more emails.

CHIDEYA: And finally, how do you think that the low number of black attorneys and perhaps the dwindling number of civil rights analysts could affect the voting rights of African-Americans?

Ms. LYNN: Oh God, I think it'll be catastrophic. I mean, for years - 40 years -minorities, especially blacks in the South, depended on the Justice Department to do the right thing. I mean, if they didn't have the money to file lawsuits against discriminatory voting changes, they knew that it had to go through the Justice Department and that they there had a chance, that they could provide information, and that we - I still consider myself them - the Justice Department would do the right thing.

Now they don't have that. They have nobody to call to give information to. The people that they would call, most of them have retired. Those that are there are too intimidated by the management to do anything. And, you know, they are limited as to what they can do. So it's going to be catastrophic.

CHIDEYA: Well, Teresa Lynn, thank you so much.

Ms. LYNN: You're quite welcome.

CHIDEYA: Teresa Lynn is a retired civil rights analyst for the Department of Justice. We also reached out to the DOJ and offered them a chance to respond to Lynn's claims. We hope to speak with someone tomorrow from the department. In the meantime, they gave us this statement.

Throughout this administration, the Justice Department has hired attorneys with diverse experiences and from an extremely wide variety of backgrounds. Over the past five fiscal years, approximately 27 percent of the new attorney hires in the Civil Rights Division were minorities. This has nearly tripled the national average as reported in a 2004 study by the American Bar Association, which found that minority representation in the legal profession is only about 9.7 percent. This administration has promoted as many minorities to section management positions in the civil rights division in six years as the previous administration did in eight years. This administration has promoted two minority section chiefs, including the first Hispanic section chief in the division's 50-year history.

That is from the Department of Justice.

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