WASHINGTON — President Bush's nominee to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was himself the subject of at least one complaint of employee abuse in his supervisory role at the Justice Department, eight former department civil rights employees charged Monday.
In a letter asking key senators to block the nomination, the former employees also charged that David Palmer's work in the department's employment litigation section was of poor quality and that he was reprimanded for one performance lapse.
The former employees, including three ex-deputy chiefs of the section, charged that Palmer's "work performance was well below the high standards expected of Department of Justice attorneys."
They said that, as section chief since 2002, Palmer undermined the unit's mission of securing the employment rights of women and minorities in the public sector, while defending employers' rights to discriminate based on religion.
Palmer was away from the office this week and couldn't be reached for comment.
But White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that during almost two decades as a Justice Department employee, Palmer "has been widely respected as a knowledgeable attorney who possesses a strong work ethic and sincere commitment to equal justice for all Americans."
The former employees' letter to Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and ranking Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming didn't specify the circumstances of Palmer's alleged employee abuse. But it accused Palmer of treating many employees "with disdain and contempt."
Marian Thompson, who worked in the section for 18 years as a statistician, said that after becoming section chief in 2002, Palmer fired a veteran attorney with whom he had had a romantic relationship and that the woman filed a complaint against him. In a phone interview, Thompson expressed surprise that Palmer did not let someone else handle that personnel decision.
Richard Ugelow, a former section chief who teaches employment law at American University, said that it was "unheard of for the head of an agency charged with enforcing equal employment opportunity laws to be charged with violating those laws. ... He's supposed to be above reproach, to set an example for other employers."
Thompson said Palmer told her after taking over as chief that it was "ironic" that he was now supervising the lawyer who had reprimanded him for an omission in a discrimination case.
A Justice Department official, who declined to be identified on a personnel matter, said that under Palmer's stewardship, the employment litigation section's record has been "comparable to that of the previous administration." The official cited a recent suit against the city of New York that charged that its fire department, the nation's largest, uses a hiring examination that discriminates against African-Americans and Hispanics.
Bush announced Palmer's nomination last September and renominated him in January. Republicans have turned up the pressure by threatening to pair Palmer's nomination with the nomination of Democrat Stuart Ishimaru for a second five-year term. Ishimaru's term expired on July 1, leaving only one Democrat on the panel.