The chief of personnel at the nation's largest training center for federal law enforcement officers is under investigation and has taken paid leave amid allegations of sexual harassment at the Georgia facility.
D. Scott Richards, personnel officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center since 1990, requested the leave, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Georgia last week.
The papers were filed in the case of Vicki D. Galliher, a former center athletic trainer, who was awarded $672,000 in damages and back pay for claims of sexual harassment at the facility. A five-man, three-women jury handed down the award Friday, one of the largest-ever sexual-harassment judgments involving women on the federal payroll.
Five current or former female employees of the center testified on Galliher's behalf, generally describing the facility as a bastion of gender discrimination run by an old-boys' network--an allegation denied by management. Among other things, Galliher charged that male employees made insinuations about her sexual orientation because she would not date workers there.
At least two current female workers and one ex-employee of the center have settled sexual-harassment complaints, according to court papers and interviews. As part of the settlements, the government admitted no wrongdoing.
Charles F. Rinkevich, a former Justice Department official and police lieutenant in Savannah who has directed the facility since 1983, testified in the Galliher case that he was "aware" of two women who have "complained about Mr. Richards." Rinkevich did not elaborate on the nature of allegations, but defended the center's record and said staffers were trained in recognizing and dealing with sexual-harassment complaints.
Melissa Mundell, the assistant U.S. attorney defending the center, confirmed during testimony that complaints by women against Richards were under investigation. Contacted at her office on Thursday, Mundell declined further comment.
Richards did not respond to a telephone message left with the acting personnel chief, John Vice.
Officials at the center and at the Treasury Department in Washington, the center's parent body, also declined to comment.
"We cannot comment on specific cases, but we take this issue very seriously," said a Treasury spokeswoman in Washington. "There has been an ongoing management review of the center, which continues."
The spokeswoman confirmed that Elisabeth Bresee, deputy assistant Treasury secretary, was at the Georgia facility Thursday.
More than 20,000 employees from 70 federal agencies train at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center each year, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service and the Secret Service. State and local law enforcement groups also utilize the facility, which is situated near Brunswick, Ga. About 600 employees work there. The center has satellite branches in Charleston, S.C., and Artesia, N.M.
Federal officials familiar with the facility said there had been concern for some time that the far-off center had become what one termed a "fiefdom," with little direction from Washington.
"There's a disregard for women as equals," said Mimi Loudermilk, a former secretary at the center who said she left in disgust in January after working there for two years. She is among the women who settled their complaints for undisclosed compensation.
Among other things, Loudermilk recalled a former superior who told her about a woman who was able to get ahead at his previous place of employment because she wore no underwear.
"I felt sick," Loudermilk, a 50-year-old mother of two grown sons, said in a telephone interview on Thursday from Brunswick, where she lives with her husband, Kenneth, who is in charge of training at the center for inspector general branches of various federal agencies.
Two other female employees who settled sexual-harassment complaints wrote a letter last Oct. 28 soliciting help from Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The women, L. Jan Alford and Karen C. Stokes, said they suffered "retaliation and discrimination" from a management team appointed to investigate allegations left on a sexual-harassment hotline at the center, widely known by its acronym as FLETC (pronounced FLET-C).
"Although our particular situations are egregious, they are not isolated, but reflect the culture at the FLETC that is rarely seen by the outside world or our Washington Treasury officials," the pair wrote. "There are women in divisions and offices that are continuing to suffer harassment and discrimination and live in daily fear of acknowledging their workplace situations."