THE Federal Bureau of Investigation, stung by persistent allegations of racial discrimination against its own employees, is negotiating with lawyers for black agents in hopes of preventing a lawsuit. Lizzie Cassell, an FBI agent for almost 15 years and a spokeswoman for a group of black agents, says she is optimistic that a settlement can be reached that would avoid legal action.
Ms. Cassell and some 200 other black agents recently held an unprecedented meeting with FBI director William Sessions, who scheduled the session after learning that a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit was in the works.
The problem, Cassell says, is the massive FBI bureaucracy that controls the bureau's personnel practices and procedures.
Black agents are routinely passed over for promotions, she says. And the bureau has only 474 black agents - 4.7 percent of a total of 9,875 agents.
Recalling the historic meeting with Mr. Sessions and the black agents, Cassell says the FBI director acknowledged there had been serious racial discrimination problems in the past and vowed to resolve them.
Another meeting with Sessions and representatives of the black agents has been scheduled in several weeks.
Meanwhile, the FBI has been turning over employment and promotion data from its computers.
After the information is analyzed, the two sides will work to structure a settlement package that could provide black agents with promotions and back pay, and change the FBI's personnel procedures.
Since he was appointed in 1987, the tenure of Sessions has been increasingly dominated by charges of discrimination by black and Hispanic agents. Sessions has frequently vowed to eliminate racism from the bureau.
Supporters say Sessions has taken a number of steps to improve the FBI's record. Critics say he has moved too tentatively.