No Fear: Tanya Ward Jordan Fights Federal Discrimination

With lifted voices,
They made selfless choices
To uphold the public good.
Facing harsh retaliation,
For the sake of the nation,
Against a soulless power, they stood.

Thus begins Tanya Ward Jordan’s “Salute to Federal Whistleblowers,” inspired by the trials and tribulations she experienced addressing workplace injustice. A real changemaker, in addition to being a Federal whistleblower, she formed a nonprofit to address and support civil rights issues. Tanya also helped pass the Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act, working with the late, great Elijah Cummings.

The longtime friend and advocate of Women Whistleblowers has a remarkable ability to remain positive. She believes she’s serving her purpose by exposing federal workplace injustice and helping civil servants uphold the public trust and doesn’t let setbacks direct her path.

“I remain optimistic because I don’t set out with the expectation that my sacrifices of time, effort, and other resources are to benefit me,” Tanya says. “I find peace when others are uplifted by my efforts to address inequality.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Tanya learned to value public service from her parents. She began her service in government in 1978 while attending college. As a civil servant, she held various positions, primarily in the financial area. She’s worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of Interior, General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

It was in the Department of Commerce (DoC) where she witnessed “gross mismanagement, violations of civil rights laws, abuse of authority, and flaws in the application of a personnel pay system in the late 1990s,” reports. As Jordan tells it, the concept of “pay for performance” sounded ideal, but not in a toxic culture of racism and reprisal.

“The resounding issue I had with the government’s use of ‘flexible payment systems’ was the government failed to build in accountability measures that would keep the compensation from becoming weaponized against whistleblowers and qualified minorities seeking Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). EEO and a workplace free of reprisal are key to enabling civil servants (i.e. correction officers, food inspectors, firefighters) to meet the complex needs of our nation.”

It wasn’t just the “Pay for Performance” system that raised alarm bells, however. Tanya’s manager was also subjecting her and other minority women to pay inequalities under the traditional system. As if that wasn’t enough, the DoC was also embroiled in an employment race discrimination class action. Tanya became an active and lead plaintiff. She designed a class action survey that she circulated to potential class members, worked with the other lead plaintiffs in compiling the written results, and submitted results to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC later certified the class action.

In retaliation for speaking out, Tanya’s job was reassigned, she was deprived of work assignments, denied telework and promotions, and had reduced ratings. Ultimately she was assigned to a storage work area that exacerbated her respiratory condition and compromised her mental well-being. Especially at work, this could be mentally draining for anyone, which may require mental well-being therapy (from centers like EMDRHealing). Apparently, Tanya was exhausted and fatigued, and it seemed difficult for her to resume her regular routine.

This is because, Tanya witnessed countless examples of race discrimination and retaliation within the DoC, including being passed over for a promotion despite having more education and experience than her white peer. She challenged this and later settled the case.

This and many other inequities led her to seek out the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Soon she found herself serving as the NAACP Taskforce’s Data Group Leader. During this tenure, Tanya learned how widespread the discrimination was in our nation’s government.

After settling a lawsuit against her employer and seeing firsthand the ravaging effects racism and reprisal were having on the mental, physical, and fiscal health of civil servants, Tanya formed the Coalition for Change (C4C) in 2009, one of her proudest achievements. She saw a dire need for a mental health support group and advocacy network for people like herself. She describes it as a proactive nonprofit organization comprised of former and present employees who have been injured or ill-treated due to Federal workplace race discrimination and reprisal.

It’s important to note that while women in the workplace experience much discrimination, Black women in particular face the brunt of it. When Tanya asked about a promotion given her exemplary work performance and abilities, her supervisor – who promoted with ease men in the division – told her, “Tanya, you’re Black and a woman.” He actually told her to go someplace else to work.

Unfortunately, though this incident occurred in the 90s, not much has changed. Jordan continues to hear similar stories. Women at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been engaged in a class action against the cabinet-level agencies for five years.

“Sexual harassment is a big problem,” Tanya says.

Tanya also cites the example of women at the Social Security Administration (SSA), who filed a race based class action against their employer. In 2007, the EEOC found that the SSA had discriminated against a class of Black women at its headquarters.

“The SSA is still battling the women rather than do right by them,” says Jordan.

Oh, how they suffered for their good deeds!
The righteous warriors risked it all.
They angered the MIGHTY in government.
They refused to let their honor fall.

As part of the legislative team of the No FEAR Coalition, a civil rights group under the leadership of Chair Dr. Marsha Coleman Adebayo, Tanya was instrumental in recommending accountability and transparency measures. The late Representative Elijah Cummings recognized Tanya for her invaluable input on the bill once known as the Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act of 2017. Since renamed the Elijah Cummings Federal Employee Antidiscrimination Act, it became law January 1, 2021. Tanya calls it an honor to know Rep. Cummings, saying what surprised her the most about him was the immense passion he held for addressing the inequities others faced.

In 2002, the Notification and Federal Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act was passed – the first U.S. civil rights law of the 21st century. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner bestowed Tanya an award for her input on what is now known as the No FEAR Act.

“Sadly, the problem of race discrimination has not improved since the No FEAR Act,” Tanya says.

While the groundbreaking law provides valuable data to track agency performance and the complaint process, discrimination remains rampant among federal agencies. Tanya says the EEOC has been negligent in executing its oversight roles. She would like the EEOC to routinely sanction federal agencies when they fail to comply with complaint processing regulations, the employing agency or the Office of Special Counsel to impose discipline on managers who break civil rights laws, and the government to stop granting free taxpayer funded agency and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys to federal managers who discriminate.

To get a break from these heavy topics, Tanya exercises to relax. She loves finding walking trails and being in the park. Writing poetry also lets her mind “escape the oppressive sphere of discrimination.” She writes under the pen name Tanya DeVonne and has two books available on Amazon.

Of poetry, Tanya says, “it affords me the space to recharge so that I can effectively challenge federal workplace injustice.”

A typical day involves checking emails and responding to inquiries from federal employees facing discrimination. Lately, Tanya has been engaging with other members and advocacy partners to gather information for publication about the EEOC. This book will expose the inefficiency of the EEOC and, its complicity in harming whistleblowers who expose racism and other civil rights violations.

In 2018, Tanya published 17 Steps: A Federal Employee’s Guide for Tackling Workplace Discrimination. She has also received many other awards and recognitions, including being listed as a 2015 Black History Maker by the NAACP. She is also active in Toastmasters International, where she had the honor to salute Rep. Cummings in one of her speeches.

Tanya continues to share her hard earned wisdom when asked what the first thing is that a whistleblower should know about their rights.

“Absolutely nothing can protect them from a federal manager that aims to retaliate against them,” Tanya says. “The present system serves only as a ‘redress’ system that allows whistleblowers to challenge injustices like retaliation after it occurs in the workplace. Those who seek to blow the whistle should understand this fact when weighing whether or not to speak truth to power.”

It’s all about being true to yourself. Tanya’s mother inspired her in this way. She faced discrimination in federal service in the 80s, challenged it, and walked away victorious knowing she had stood up to injustice. She then reinvented herself, got a Ph.D., and opened up a practice in therapeutic counseling to aid others dealing with life issues.

“She always taught me and my siblings to value education, and to learn as much as you can because no one can take away your knowledge,” Tanya says.

Through jeers and sneers,
Through trials and tears,
They whistled a caged and dark TRUTH into the light.
Candor they raised
With cheerless praise
As they battled boldly upright.

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