Hispanic US Customs Agents Sue Govt., Allege Discrimination

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Several Hispanic Special Agents of the United States Customs Service have filed a class action lawsuit against the Treasury Department in federal court in Washington alleging that the Customs Department discriminated against them because of their national origin.

The Customs Department is part of the U.S. Treasury Department.

The suit was filed on behalf of more than 400 current and former agents. It alleges that the agents have been denied promotions, been given unpopular assignments in dangerous undercover work and border stations and encountered discrimination in hirings and transfers as well as harassment.

The suit said the discrimination has been going on for close to 30 years and is a violation of provisions in the landmark United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

The suit also alleges that the agents have not been "fairly compensated" for their Spanish language ability in carrying out assignments, dangerous or otherwise for the Customs Service.

Attorney Ronald Schmidt, who is representing the plaintiffs, said they are seeking "complete reform of the Treasury (Department) personnel system."

"We want them to put in a merit promotion system that is really a merit promotion system and not one that is run by these good old boy networks," Schmidt said in an interview with CNSNews.com.

As to a monetary settlement, Schmidt said, "We think the case merits the maximum amount per individual, which is $300,000 per individual. There are at least 400 people, so if the jury were to award the full amount, the case could be worth 120 million dollars."

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service had no comment Monday because the agency has not seen the complaint.

But in an official statement on employment, the Customs Service said it is an Equal Opportunity Employer and recruits and promotes qualified applicants and employees without regard to race, color, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, age, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

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