Following Logan Isaac’s September 2016 federal complaint, a compliance officer with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) interviewed the Duke University Divinity School Senior Director of Admissions, Recruitment, and Student Finance, among other managerial employees. The interview was conducted on campus February 8, 2017. Here is a link to the OFCCP interview notes which we received through a Freedom of Information Act request. Some commentary is provided below the break which may provide some context as to why this interview is significant.
One of the first things of note about the Director’s interview is that there appears to have been no questions asked of a managerial employee about Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). In other interviews, this has typically been a dedicated section all to itself, as all managers are required to attend EEO training that includes Veteran Status.
Veterans Denied Representation
The Director oversees new student orientation every year, which has an attendance of nearly 200, and Isaac had pitched a dedicated 15 minute segment bringing Veteran Status to the attention of all incoming students. As an alumni and current employee, Isaac was not only an interested party to treatment of veterans but he was also an active member of the Divinity veterans group that met weekly at that time. Isaac founded what was then known as the Duke Divinity Veterans Partnership, and was offering to speak on their behalf, since current leadership was away on summer break when he and the Director met on July 28, 2016.
Another veteran added their support, writing to the director;
I am a rising third year MDiv/MPP and a military veteran and current Reservist… Because we veterans hail from all racial/ethnic backgrounds and are both men and women, we don’t stick out as much as other under-represented groups. I just want to add my voice as a current student and veteran that it would be great to have a brief time with the entire incoming cohort to plant a seed of awareness.
In lieu of allowing the Divinity veterans group to speak to fellow incoming stakeholders and interested parties, the Director sought the guidance of a non-veteran for veteran related concerns. Explaining this decision, the Director told OFCCP “it was inappropriate to allow Isaac to speak,” citing non-affiliation (q.6). This is demonstrably false, as Isaac was employed by the University, on payroll at the Divinity School, for the entirety of 2016. In question 7, the Director went even further, insisting Isaac had “no formal reason or obligation to participate” in the programs and activities of his employer.
Had the Director received proper EEO training, then it would have been clearer that placing limits upon protected veterans’ participation in University programs and activities is expressly prohibited by University policy and federal laws which compel government contractors to extend affirmative action and nondiscrimination protection to veterans like Isaac. Protected populations do not require a “formal reason or obligation” to participate in programs and activities any more than do other members of the University.
There are a few troubling incidents in the Director’s testimony which disclose a tendency or desire to isolate the issue as merely a personal concern held by Isaac rather than being a systemic issue. The Director implies special treatment extended to Isaac, whom he “allowed… to be present as an exception.” (q.7) The next sentence suggests Isaac’s lack of sincerity, bringing to OFCCP’s attention that “Isaac did not attend the orientation.” The same sentence also discloses the Director’s poor memory, for no representative was sent by Isaac, who was at a nearby hospital participating in the birth of his first child.
The last several questions up the ante in support of the Director’s seeming attempts at discrediting Isaac. Not only have other veteran managers and supervisors not “witnessed anything negative in regards to veterans,” (q.17) according to the Director, but the Compliance Officer is encouraged explicitly to “be as discerning as you can as far as what pertains to Mr. Isaac individually.” (q.20)
It is worth noting that the position itself was created only recently and did not adhere to federal laws binding government contractors to affirmative action. In the transcript itself, we see that the individual was hired in November 2015. The Interim Dean was directly involved in hiring and told OFCCP “I don’t know if there were any veterans rejected” from the pool of applicants. (q.13) When asked for documentation, OFCCP was directed to “the HR office.” This is a violation of 41 CFR 60-300.44(b).
This is problematic because government contractors are required to invite all applicants to positions, of any rank and type, to self-identify as veterans. Not all veteran applicants do identify themselves, but the exchange and prior actions by the University strongly suggests that no such invitation was ever extended. The HR office would have those invitations on file, but OFCCP never acquired them (either because they do not exist or because HR was never asked). We know this because they do not appear in the case file acquired through FOIA.
History of Malfeasance
According to the interview notes, the current Director was serving as Director of Academic Programs at the Divinity School until 2012, before taking a position in Kansas City, MO (he returned to fill the current role three years later, in 2015). The same year this person left Duke, in 2012, disabled student Bradley Elmendorf enrolled in the M.Div program after turning down a larger scholarship at another university following promises of accommodation. Those promises pertained to academic programs, and would less likely have been made by admissions staff than by academic programs staff under the Director’s supervision. When those promises never materialized, Elmendorf took his concerns to the Office of Institutional Equity, just as Isaac would later do under other circumstances.
After filing with OIE, Elmendorf was told “he would lose his tuition scholarship if he did not withdraw his grievance.” He subsequently filed a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination with the help of Disability Rights NC. This is significant because of the pattern of threats disclosed by the lawsuit. After Isaac filed with OIE in June and then with OFCCP in September, he was told he would be “‘blacklisted’ at universities” if he insisted on seeing his complaint through.
Finally, according to the Elmendorf v. Duke court documents, Duke University was represented in court by the same firm and the same attorney they would later retain to represent employees at OFCCP interviews. Elmendorf settled out of court with Duke in May 2016, the same month the Registrar passed over a qualified disabled veteran for employment. Despite regulations directing the OFCCP to query and collect “any prior compliance or complaint investigations of the contractor,” (FCCM § 6F01) no such effort was made. To understand why this is significant, see our “Due Process” post, or, more specifically, “OFCCP Reconsideration Request,” section A3.
Other OFCCP interviews can be found here.