FBI Reaches Racial-Bias Settlement With Its Black Agents

MORE than 100 black Federal Bureau of Investigation agents will get promotions, transfers, or new training opportunities under a proposed agreement for ending racial discrimination within the law enforcement agency.

Acknowledging what Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson called "plausible claims of discrimination," the FBI has also agreed to put its personnel practices under a federal judge's supervision for five years.

About 90 percent of the approximately 10,400 FBI special agents nationwide are white males. About 520 or 5 percent are black, an agency spokesman said.

After nearly two years of negotiations in which embattled FBI Director William Sessions sought to avoid a courtroom showdown, Mr. Gerson announced the settlement Tuesday.

Gerson, who is holding his job only until a new attorney general is nominated by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate, said the accord was reached just before his predecessor, William Barr, left office.

But he said the timing of the settlement announcement had nothing to do with Mr. Sessions's fight to keep his job in the wake of a Justice Department report that said he abused the privileges of his office.

He said Sessions had played a "very positive" role in the negotiations that produced the settlement, but he acknowledged that the FBI director was not invited to a news conference announcing it because of the feud with the Justice Department.

Sessions has pushed hard to increase the number of minorities in the ranks of FBI agents. An organization of 6,500 agents, overwhelmingly white, attempted unsuccessfully last July to stymie the accord after a tentative settlement was reached three months earlier.

The settlement awards back pay and bonuses to black agents who claim they were denied promotions or merit awards because of race. The exact amount is yet to be determined, but attorneys estimated it would total $150,000 to $200,000. However, all of the money will go into a pool for monitoring and enforcing the agreement rather than to the individual agents.

Under the accord, the FBI has agreed to revamp its hiring, promotion, job appraisal, assignment, and disciplinary practices. Outside consultants will be brought in to oversee much of that.

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