Racial & Social Equity in Employment: Challenges and Solutions

Hold STEM GOCO facility managers accountable for unjust acts

Background: An e-mail was received by Hal on Friday, April 30, 2021, with subject of "Last Chance: USDOL's Advance Racial & Social Equity Online Dialogue Ending 5/3." Quoted from that e-mail's message: "Please join these participants in the conversation on how the department can promote equity in employment policies and programs for people with disabilities from historically undeserved communities, people with mental health conditions, those recovering from long-term effects of COVID-19 and job seekers and workers with disabilities." The following comments, though cast in an historical context, should then elicit outrage in those organizing, holding and evaluating (after May 3) this conversation at how a scientist ("Hal") was so badly treated in the 1990's at a US GOCO facility (LANL) owned and funded by the US Department of Energy that his STEM research career was not only unjustly disrupted but ended by LANL senior management whose improper actions were not corrected by oversight as a mandatory responsibility of the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) and OFCCP which both were deaf to the pain suffered by a thousand employees of LANL laid off in late 1995 due in general not to poor job performance of employees but to internal realignments desired by LANL senior management so that it, not DOE or UC, had the upper hand in deciding how budget allocations would be spent and how the surviving employee population's KSA profile would align with those allocations. Please understand, though, those who read this input today that it is provided only to interest the OFCCP and the ODEP of DOL to better protect present and future STEM workers in the Federal civil service (or SES) or in US GOCO facilities when senior managers again might improperly wield their authority and power to end careers of workers that they do not like – and do it in such a way that these managers are not held accountable for their improper actions against employees -- even decades later. Hal does not complain about the matter, his past as summarized in the following input provided in response to an invitation from OFCCP is just simply 'water over the dam' but is conveyed here so that OFCCP and ODEP might be more alert to how some managers and employers work in stealth mode out of sight of those charged with oversight responsibilities to protect the rights and careers of STEM workers, some of them whistleblowers, some of them simply exercising their conscience rights while still being respectful to their employers. Further, in the latter 1990's the OFCCP turned both a blind eye and a deaf ear toward the plight of the employees discharged in late 1995 from LANL, even though those that were laid off had set up an organization called "CLEAR" under the leadership of its President, a LANL Hispanic employee, Dr. Charles "Chuck" Montoya, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure their rights as US citizens and human persons. In sharp contrast, Hal's earlier federal experience as a GS-12 and then a GS-13 civil servant working as a research physicist within the FDA in Rockville, MD over 1975-1977 was exemplary in terms of excellent job performance ratings, advancement, productivity, and flexibility of federal managers to allow Hal to publish multiple papers in peer-reviewed research journals. Finally, this input or Idea to the conversation is Hal's second Idea, an earlier one commenting on an idea posted by former OFCCP Director Craig Leen.* Hal's second input ("Idea") here complements that earlier Idea, extending Mr. Leen's idea of Schedule A hiring of the disabled worker in Federal (civil) service, to also include hiring and retention of employees at US GOCO facilities. So, with all that in mind, this background ends and other details on Hal's 1990's experience at LANL follow:

Despite a 'perfect storm' in his career over 1989-2005 of chronic work stress response, recurrent mental illness, a physical injury, RIF's, and layoffs, Hal (now age 78) resumed in 2005 upon emerging from his last bout with major depression the physics exploratory research (ER) he had done at LANL but now serving as an unpaid pro bono volunteer worker in VT and NH, beginning with pure math research in number theory & later doing theoretical physics research in condensed matter (mostly imaging science with NMR/MRI and with ultrasound) plus service as a social-justice advocate for disabled persons in STEM communities including AAAS and IEEE. This recovery as a late bloomer was miraculous as well as transformative, as evidenced by a renewed scientific collaboration with Prof. N. over 2005-2010 at a university in northern New England, appointment in 2007-2011 as a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, founding in 2010 of a scientific consulting firm, and writing of a capstone 2021 white paper urging research to test Hal's prediction of overlooked adverse bioeffects of medical diagnostic ultrasound accepted in early 2021 by the Office of Autism Research Coodination (OARC) on behalf of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) at NIMH/NIH as public comment to be disseminated to IACC members. (Hal with his wife had moved back to VT in 2000 from NM while he was recovering from serious mental illness plus a serious injury, after failing in late 1999 a fitness-for-duty evaluation by LANL.)

A recoery occurred despite a severe affective, cognitive & social function decline since 1989, on top of a lifelong but progressive idiopathic neurodevelopmental disorder. A partial timeline for all this includes ending of his status in: 1990 as PI of any funded ER projects at LANL, 1994 as author of any further peer-reviewed research-journal papers, late 1995 of employment at LANL due to unjust selection for a large-scale RIF that led wrongly to his termination, 1996 as a salaried part-time contractor researcher at LANL and of his hopes for reinstatement to his pre-RIF job at LANL after winning a unanimous recommendation of reinstatement by the official LANL administrative panel of three of his peers that in 1996 heard his grievance over his firing, 1999 as a salaried full-time employee working daily at his work site, 2001 'on paper' of his at-will two-year term position at LANL secured in late 1999 as part of an out-of-court settlement of a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Hal by his attorney, 2008 of his final period of Long Term Disability Insurance Income (LDTII) in a legally mandated transition to retirement at age 65 from the University of California (UC, at the time the sole holder of LANL's M&O contract with DOE), 2011 of any institutional affiliation save as UC retiree, and 2020 of any ability to travel, partly due to declining health, partly due to travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic protocols.

Now stripped of power to survive on his own, the big sink-or-swim world of academic and corporate research tends to view Hal as too little, his untested ideas & unreviewed works as unimportant. Its busy, able professionals, well known for important STEM achievements, honors and societal standing, saturated with commitments to colleagues, and indifferent to his plight, choose not to help Hal to network, extend his work & publish again. Also, many are impatient with his gauche and cognitive slowness & make snap judgments on his ideas and theories as incomplete, unproven, or wrong & his unpublished works as information only, not valid substitutes for published papers, perhaps because of their vested conflicts of interest. In a nutshell, they view the mentally disabled person generally through the lens of an oppressive social construct of mental ableism, falsely seeing not a human person but distorted images of one and smearing the professional reputation of that one as a lazybones, malingerer or troublemaker, unjustly isolating that person. Arguably all this would not have happened and the Nation would have secured a much better ROI on Hal's 1968-1974 graduate education and training partially supported by Federal funding as from NSF and NIH and the VA (via athe G.I. Bill, as Hal is a veteran), if LANL had allowed Hal to find his way back to productivity as a salaried research physicist despite his disability and thus to rescue his reputation as a bona fide scientist capable of doing original and important work, advancing the LANL mission and perhaps even adding a fourth US Patent to his CV which lists three awarded in the latter 1970's and early 1980's.

So now Hal champions social justice reform within the diversity, equity and inclusion ethic of the STEM community to secure rights of a mentally disabled person to fuller access to STEM graduate education and training, employment in full-time positions, scientific collaborations, awards of grants to do sponsored research, personal help, & reintegration into paid workforce upon recovery from career disruption. The OFCCP and ODEP of DOL can help to rectify this situation in federal hiring into and retention in STEM-related positions (including Schedule A probationary hiring of the disabled worker) as well as in hiring and retention of employees in GOCO facilities such as the U.S. national laboratories like LANL where Hal worked off and on over 1984-2001 as a full-time (and part-time) Technical Staff member and part-time contractor employee.

More on how LANL operated in stealth mode off the radar screens monitored by OFCCP over January 1990 – January 2001 to illegally disrupt and then end the STEM career of Hal: This includes 2½yr of no job for Hal after a late 1995 layoff from LANL + 4 sets of leave-of-absence (LOA) from LANL = 60% of period, with 4½yr long-term (LT) disability insurance income (LTDII). Layoff and 3 LT LOA's led to loss of Q Clearance authorizing Hal's access to LANL workplaces, requiring reinstatement process 4 times. Disruption began as acute-depression work-stress response (WSR) disclosed in January 1990 to LANL management then authorizing Hal to take a year off from work on 1st LT LOA (with LTDII) for medical care including hospitalization in Arizona. After 1yr back at work (July 1990 – July 1991) but not as PI, he relapsed into major depression, with another year off from work on 2nd LT LOA with LTDII (July 1991 – June 1992). Back again at work (July 1992) but now with no project funding nor any future annual pay hike, he on his own went to EAP to get help in managing his WSR and deal with his Group Leader's 2 RIF notices, then finding new job in another Group in another Division at LANL realigned in September 1995 to yet another Division that then unjustly placed him on 3rd RIF list. Offering him no job after 7 bids, LANL fired him in 11/95.

In 1996 to get his job back, Hal filed an official grievance heard by a panel of 3 LANL peers in a proceeding governed by provisions in the LANL Administrative Manual, all finding his 3rd RIF was NOT due to poor job performance but surreptitiously to his moral preference (based on a wish to protect his mental health from any further crises) as stated to his new group leader to not work on nuclear bomb parts in a very high and 'scary' security area behind the fence in the presence of armed guards with automatic weapons at the ready to thwart any intrusion while workers radiographed the plutonium pits from nuclear weapons devices shipped to LANL from the field or depot to determine aging and damage from self-irradiation (as part of the Stockpile Stewardship program). His peers on that panel unanimously recommended to the LANL Director's Office (DO) his reinstatement which rejected it and his appeal to the UC Office of the President in Oakland, CA as well as the LANL DO, de facto banning him for 3yr to no job except ½ yr part-time (PT) contractor work in 1996 despite 25 more job bids to LANL. So Hal sued LANL in US federal District Court (in Albuquerque, NM), whereupon LANL settled and hired him in 12/98 but in a stressful 2-year at-will operations job (not research, his forte) to help clean up low-level nuclear waste left over from WWII and the Cold War.

To lower his recurring WSR, Hal took short-term LOA (incl. accrued sick leave time) to revisit EAP but the clinical psychologist there put him on a 3rd LT LOA to test and evaluate him in unethical process due to conflict of interest from also being the EAP site manager. This led to a memo signed in September 1999 by LANL clinic director declaring Hal not fit for duty. Blacklisted from work and thus wrongly thinking he could never work again, Hal relapsed again in late 1999 into major depression (plus generalized anxiety disorder) leading to his 4th LT LOA with LTDII, with LOA ending 'on paper' with his official termination in January 2001 and LTDII ending in May 2005 due to the forced retirement at age 65. Output: 4 papers in print; 10 talks -- far below his potential.

LANL and UC were never held accountable for their poor treatment of Hal as a research scientist who as a USAR veteran earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1974 at a US university. Thus, since 1990 Hal never experienced that "equity" that this "conversation" is supposed to advance (even though he is white). Indeed, figuratively speaking, he now resides at the bottom of a very deep well with no way up and out on the level ground that others enjoy. He can shout up but no one seems to hear him. He can go nowhere, but now can only "be" due to the loss of much of what he was once able to "do."

It goes without saying that if one remains unemployed for a year or more after a layoff or serious illness (for example), he or she falls too far behind one's former peers to be able to catch up with them and reintegrate successfully back into the workforce. One's IT and other work tools obsolesce and then become obsolescent. So, besides his disability, age, and exercise of his conscience rights over nuclear weapons (a religious or First Amendment matter), plus the deliberate smearing of his professional reputation in 1995 and on by LANL senior management, Hal has experienced discrimination on the basis of being unemployed and even, in the minds of some of his peers, has been regarded as unemployable due to that smear. So he has been forced to work in utter isolation, in a kind of professional solitary confinement with a legacy PC system and a problematic Internet connection in a very rural area as a kind of punishment for simply being the one that God had created him to be. And now for the past year, since about February 2020, Hal has been severely restricted in his movements from his house due to actions taken by the Governor of his State of Vermont, the Hon. Phil Scott, this restriction being due to Hal complying as well as he can with protocols Gov. Scott put in place as authorized by his emergency powers. As a matter of conscience including protection of his mental health, Hal has not been not able to do everything that the State mandates and so he self-isolates to protect others from any possible exposure to him should he be infected with the virus. So far he has not been ill with it. In sum, Hal credits God for keeping him alive and doing something of value to benefit his neighbor, even though his neighbor generally does nothing to help him even when he reaches out for it.

For someone entering the gauntlet that Hal has passed through (as described in the preceding paragraphs) but wants to get out of it and back to work with pay, please consider setting up a Cadillac version of a hot line that active employees at federal and GOCO facilities can call without prejudice or fear of a backlash or punishment when they hit a very rough bump in the road due to an acton being taken by a manager that at least on the surface of it appears to be unjust and in violation of that employee's rights or threatens to improperly and involuntarily end that employee's STEM career. Thank you for listening, for the sake of others, not myself.

* Idea #342: Los Alamos National Laboratory/University of California Retiree. Campaign: Racial & Social Equity in Employment: Challenges and Solutions. Author: Harold M. Frost, Ph.D. First sentence in that "Idea": This is my response to the recent entry of Craig Leen, former OFCCP Director with title of his entry of "More consistent and extensive use of Schedule A Hiring Authority" posted within this Campaign category of "Racial & Social Equity in Employment: Challenges and Solutions."

END OF HAL'S INPUT

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