DON'T TREAD ON JESSE

HIS FEDERAL EMPLOYER SUBJECTED HIM TO A DIZZYING ARRAY OF INDIGNITIES. NOW HE'S FINDING JUSTICE.

The board wrote harshly of Smiley's actions: "The selection of an individual who had been a career conditional employee of the agency for only two months over a former GS-11 employee with several years' experience shows that Myers was not given strong consideration."

After an FmHA appeal was denied, Myers was reinstated, effective July 1984.
Smiley, who resigned from the agency in 1985, refused to respond to EEO investigators' inquiries and could not be reached for comment for this story. He did write in a letter to the EEO that "Myers left deep tracks that cannot be covered up by filing an EEO complaint. He was treated fairly in every way and should absolutely have no complaint of any kind."

Even with Smiley gone, Myers' problems would continue.
@rule:
@body:Back on the job, Myers was assigned to the state office of FmHA in Phoenix, where he soon ran afoul of Joe Velut, chief of Farmer Programs for the state. Myers was spending a great deal of time in the field, doing appraisals.

For one assignment in 1990, Velut instructed Myers to appraise three farms near Willcox. He was given two days to complete the task. Howard Kahlow, supervisor for that area, called the assignment "definitely unreasonable" and advised Myers to try to get more time.

But Myers went ahead and performed the three appraisals, working into the night. On the day he was due back in Phoenix, he left Cochise County at 5 a.m. When he reported to work at 8:10, he was given a letter of criticism from Velut.

An EEO investigation would reveal that in a similar case, a white appraiser was given an equally difficult assignment by Velut, also to do in two days. The appraiser took four days to complete the assignment, but was never criticized.

Then there was the time a computer operator was perusing computer files, and saw a file in Myers' directory titled "Shit." She immediately notified Myers' supervisor, who reviewed Myers' files. They discovered nine files that didn't appear to be government related. That, along with 21 phone calls he had made that were deemed "personal"--15 were to an employee in another USDA office in the same building; four were to his wife--earned Myers a ten-day suspension in September 1991.

His do-nothing days returned. Even the new state director, Clark Dierks, noticed. Dierks sent Velut a memo, saying: "During my walk-through on June 5, I noticed that Mr. Myers appeared to have nothing to do. His desk was clear and he was on the phone. It remains your responsibility to insure that everyone in your section has sufficient work and remains busy and productive."

Mark Finley--a co-worker, not a supervisor--was assigned to review Myers' work for errors. Finley often found items missing, he claims. But he wasn't the most objective of sources, once writing a memo complaining that "Myers has become a real hindrance to the quiet environment with his continuous and repetitious telephone conversations concerning his EEO complaint. Bluntly, I am sick of his loud voice complaining of the same thing over and over again."

Velut wouldn't discuss Myers' performance with New Times. However, in affidavits made during EEO investigations, Velut has denied discriminating against Myers. He claims one performance review, in which Myers was given an unsatisfactory rating, "provides specific illustrations of his nearly constant belligerent and noncooperative behavior with me and with other employees." Velut called Myers a "very abrasive individual" who is "unpleasant to have on my staff."

Velut and Myers had shouting matches on more than one occasion; employees like Charlene Warren, chief of administrative programs for Arizona FmHA, worried that Myers could become violent. "I have serious concerns about what he is capable of doing to me or anyone else that crosses him," Warren says.

But Alan Geyer, who witnessed one confrontation between Velut and Myers, observes, "Joe had confronted Jesse, knew he had him upset, and wasn't going to let the situation die down. Jesse . . . attempted to escape Joe's pressure." Geyer calls Velut "an antagonist."

But it is Jesse Myers who invariably gets punished.
@rule:
@body:In the past dozen years, there has never been more than a handful of African-American employees at Arizona FmHA. Nationwide, 7 percent of the agency's 12,000 workers are black.

Myers is by far the highest-ranking FmHA black in Arizona, but he is not the only one to complain about inequities.

Serena Fleming, the FmHA's Black Employment Programs coordinator, has filed two EEO complaints. Both, she says, were settled to her satisfaction.

While there are currently three blacks employed by FmHA in Arizona, until recently there were four. Of those four, Fleming says, "One is taking it to court, one filed grievances, one transferred and one hasn't had any complaints.

"When you have a good-old-boys club, if you're not part of it, you're in trouble." She says Myers is seen as a chronic complainer. "Even though what he's saying is valid and he can prove it, the attitude is, 'Oh, well. It's just Jesse.' He isn't willing to compromise, to give an inch. But until recently, they weren't willing to give him an inch, either," says Fleming, who is optimistic that the new state director will improve relations in the office.

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