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Consumer bureau slow to fix age, minority bias: union leader

By Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. consumer bureau officials were slow to fix performance reviews that were unfair to minority and older employees, despite complaints, a union leader will tell lawmakers on Wednesday.

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has admitted that black and Hispanic employees, workers over the age of 40 and others were more likely to receive ratings below the top score in reviews used to set merit raises in 2012 and 2013.

Ben Konop, a CFPB enforcement attorney and a leader of its union chapter, plans to tell lawmakers that, while top officials recently moved to fix the problem, they were not responsive when the union first identified suspected gaps in September 2013.

A CFPB spokesman said the bureau's pay system is applied consistently and does not consider factors such as race and gender.

The bureau also denied attempts by about 15 women and minority employees to show that they were paid less than similarly situated white male coworkers, Konop said in prepared testimony for a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday.

The spokesman said the cases Konop referenced are still in the grievance process, but the bureau had so far found that the individuals' pay was fair.

"Unfortunately, I've ... witnessed bureau management struggle, at times, to live up to the mission, ideals and achievements of the CFPB," Konop said in the remarks seen by Reuters to be delivered to a financial services subcommittee.

The bureau came under heavy criticism from lawmakers after apparent disparities in reviews became public in March.

On Monday, officials said they began to investigate after they heard about the problems and quickly decided to scrap the review system and work on a new one with the union.

After subsequent internal analysis showed several categories of employees were disadvantaged, officials said they would retroactively compensate people who received middling reviews in 2012 and 2013 as if they had gotten top marks.

Konop said these changes show "the bureau has made a solid first step in the process of holding itself accountable."

GENDER DISCRIMINATION

The House financial services panel also heard on April 2 from a CFPB attorney who said she faced gender discrimination and was retaliated against when she reported it.

The bureau had hired an outside firm to investigate, and the resulting report said attorney Angela Martin had experienced retaliation. The bureau disputed the findings.

Liza Strong, who heads labor and employee relations at the CFPB, said in testimony for Wednesday's hearing that her office found no evidence of discrimination. She said the CFPB settled with Martin and created new positions for her on two occasions.

The bureau declined to participate in the April hearing, saying it could not comment on Martin's case because it was still in the grievance process. The House panel issued subpoenas to compel officials to participate on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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