Letter to The Honorable Michael Mukasey, Attorney General


Letter to The Honorable Michael Mukasey, Attorney General

Senate Judiciary Democrats Press Mukasey On Discrimination Case

Press Reports Signal Department Attorney Fired Unlawfully

Responding to press reports about the dismissal of a Department of Justice attorney, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking that he ensure that Department of Justice managers are aware of laws and policies against discrimination and intimidation. Recent media reports have suggested Leslie Hagen, a Department attorney and the liaison with the U.S. Attorney's Committee on Native American Issues from 2005 to 2006, was removed from her post in light of rumors of her sexual orientation. Federal law protects Federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"We ask that as Attorney General, you take steps to ensure that all of your managers understand the existing protections under law to protect employees against all forms of discrimination and intimidation," the letter said.

The letter was signed by all 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The text of the letter follows.

Last week, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sent a letter to the Department's Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility seeking confirmation that the offices were including Ms. Hagen's case in the ongoing investigations into the firings of U.S. Attorneys for seemingly political reasons and improper personnel practices throughout the Department.

April 8, 2008

The Honorable Michael Mukasey
Attorney General
The Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

We are writing in response to current reports that a career attorney at the Justice Department may have been removed from her position based on rumors of her sexual orientation. Leslie Hagen served as the liaison between the Department and the U.S. Attorneys' Committee on Native American issues from 2005 to 2006. According to a report on National Public Radio, several people interviewed by the Inspector General's staff believe that the Department's decision to remove Ms. Hagen was due to her perceived sexual orientation.

The Department reportedly claimed a need to rotate people through the position as the reason for not renewing Ms. Hagen's contract. However, senior officials in Ms. Hagen's former office dispute this explanation, telling NPR that they learned in a meeting that her contract would not be renewed because "someone on the Attorney General's staff had a problem with Hagen. The problem, it was suggested during the conversation, was sexual orientation - or what was rumored to be Hagen's sexual orientation."

Ms. Hagen was removed from her post despite glowing reviews of her work. Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger told NPR that "‘she was the best qualified person in the nation to fill that job.'" Sarah Brubaker, a tribal prosecutor in Michigan described Hagan as "‘at the very top of any of the prosecutors I've ever worked with" and "‘not only an excellent prosecutor, but also easy to work with - personable, professional.'" Several months after she was told that she would be removed, Ms. Hagen received the best possible rating of "outstanding" on all categories of her job performance evaluation.

We expect that the circumstances of Ms. Hagen's termination are part of the investigation into improper personnel practices at the Justice Department. Current law provides that it is a "prohibited personnel practice" to discriminate against a federal employee or job applicant on the basis of off-duty conduct that does not affect job performance. See 5 U.S.C. §2302(b)(10).

Even though the statute does not specifically mention sexual orientation, it has long been interpreted to prohibit such discrimination, including, notably, in a 1983 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel by then-Assistant Attorney General Theodore Olson. See 7 Op.O.L.C. 58 (1983).

By all reports Ms. Hagen was an excellent prosecutor and an asset to her division. It would be shameful for the Department to terminate any employee because of sexual orientation, much less an employee whose job performance earned such high praise.

We appreciate the commitment you made at your confirmation hearing to equal treatment for Justice Department employees, regardless of their sexual orientation. We also applaud your February 2008 statement which noted your efforts to "foster an environment in which diversity is valued, understood and sought" and maintain "an environment that's free of discrimination." We ask that as Attorney General, you take steps to ensure that all of your managers understand the existing legal protections to protect employees against all forms of discrimination and intimidation.

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY EDWARD M. KENNEDY
Chairman United States Senator

JOSEPH R. BIDEN HERB KOHL
United States Senator United States Senator

DIANNE FEINSTEIN RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD
United States Senator United States Senator

CHARLES E. SCHUMER RICHARD J. DURBIN
United States Senator United States Senator

BENJAMIN L. CARDIN SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
United States Senator United States Senator