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Grijalva suggests racial discrimination suit could be filed over BLM’s reorganization

By: - December 4, 2019 2:51 pm

The Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Washington, D.C.

UPDATED to include comments from BLM

An Arizona Democrat’s criticism of the Bureau of Land Management’s reorganization plan reached new heights Wednesday when U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva suggested the agency headquarter’s move to Colorado could lead to a racial discrimination suit. 

Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, demanded that the Department of Interior and BLM produce an analysis to be sure the reorganization doesn’t have a disparate effect on its black employees, nearly half of whom work in Washington, D.C.

“Without an analysis showing the proposed reorganization would not have a disparate impact, or would serve a legitimate, non-discriminatory business need, BLM’s vulnerability to a successful lawsuit would increase dramatically. It would be reckless for DOI to fail to perform such an analysis,” Grijalva wrote in his letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. 

BLM’s reorganization has been met with increasing resistance from Democrats as more details of the plan have come to light. 

The main objective of the plan is to gut the Washington, D.C., bureau and move most of the agency’s national leadership to a new headquarters in remote Grand Junction, Colorado. Other employees will be scattered across the western states. 

Grand Junction is the largest city on the Colorado Western Slope, with about 60,000 residents. It is nearly 250 miles west of Denver, near the state’s border with Utah. 

Notably, the agency’s environmental assessment team, which is tasked with ensuring all BLM activities comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, will be scattered across 9 different western cities, including Phoenix. 

Interior appointed officials say the move will streamline the agency’s work by putting decision-makers closer to the lands they manage, but distinguished former national and state leaders emphatically disagree

Grijalva has been a fierce critic of Interior leadership and BLM acting head William Perry Pendley. This is so far the first suggestion from the Democrats that the move may indeed be illegal. 

In his letter, Grijalva pointed out that, according to the Office of Personnel Management, 41% of the agency’s 312 black employees are headquartered in Washington. He warned that the move may disproportionately affect its black staff, who make up only 3.5% of an agency known for being overwhelmingly white and male

“If there is a disparate impact on any protected class of employees, the agency would be exposed to significant legal liability that could rival the cost of the entire relocation,” Grijalva wrote.

Pendley pushed back at Grijalva’s claims in a written statement to Arizona Mirror.

“Chairman Grijalva is wrong in insinuating that the BLM has failed to meet its obligations under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, and insulting in his implications that Westerners are hostile to BLM’s Black/African-American employees or would be unwelcoming to people of diverse backgrounds. Shame on him,” Pendley said. “Unlike Chairman Grijalva’s point of view, we selected individuals to fill positions out west based on their skills, knowledge, abilities and expertise.”

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Parker Shea

Parker Shea joins the Arizona Mirror after recently graduating from Arizona State University, where he was editor-in-chief of State Press Magazine. He hopes to one day have a career reporting on issues related to the environment. He is a daily runner and enjoys exploring the Arizona wilderness.