An attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Wednesday accused the Bureau of fostering a “culture of retaliation and intimidation that silences employees and chills the workforce from exposing wrongdoing” in a hearing before a House Financial Services Subcommittee.

The hearing was called by Republicans in response to growing reports that the CFPB has issues with internal staffing and worker morale, especially concerning employee reviews. But after the CFPB declined to send representatives to testify, the hearing was focused on one employee and her ongoing dispute with the Bureau.

Angela Martin, an attorney in the agency’s enforcement division, has been embroiled in a battle with the CPFB since filing a complaint of discrimination and retaliation in December 2012. At the time, she was chief counsel in the CFPB’s Consumer Response unit, the group responsible for consumer complaints against financial firms.

Martin’s opening statement was focused on her experience with her personnel dispute with the Bureau. Not revealing what led to the initial complaint, she alleged that she has suffered severe retaliation due to it.

Martin alleged that while a complaint she brought through the Equal Employment Opportunity process was being dealt with, she received a phone call from CFPB Director Richard Cordray in August asking that she have her lawyers “back down” because he was trying to secure her a job in the bureau’s enforcement division. Martin contends she agreed to settle this complaint but then did not receive the job discussed because it had been given to somebody else. But she is currently identified as an attorney in the enforcement division, the job she was seeking.

Martin claimed that women and minorities suffered from the actions of a group of white managers, leading to a hostile work environment. Within the Consumer Response unit, Martin said there was an exodus of women and African-Americans who were replaced by white males. She claimed that the replacements were “cronies” of Scott Pluta, the assistant director of Consumer Response and Martin’s boss.

“It is regrettable that the details of a personnel issue so unrepresentative of conditions at the CFPB have been aired so publicly,” Pluta said in a statement. “Due to Ms. Martin’s privacy rights in an ongoing investigation, I am ethically and legally unable to make public the documents that would vindicate my actions. And despite the fact that my privacy rights and those of my staff have been so grossly trampled upon, I remain confident in the process and the Bureau.”

Martin testified that CFPB managers had hired only African-Americans to work at the consumer complaint intake unit within Consumer Response. She said that because only blacks worked at the unit, CFPB workers nicknamed it “the Plantation.”

“African-Americans tell me it is extremely hard to leave the Plantation,” Martin said. “You must be extremely savvy or you must be having somebody else to get you out.”

Democrats on the Subcommittee tried to persuade the Republican leadership to cancel the hearing once it was determined that it would focus solely on Martin, her individual claims, and hearsay from other employees. Democrats claimed that the focus and tone of the hearing had decidedly shifted and had taken on “more political motivation, to further disparage the CFPB.”

But Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif), the ranking Democrat in the subcommittee and a signatory to the letter, appeared moved by Martin’s story. She did not ask any questions, saying, “I’d like to yield back the balance of my time to Ms. Martin so she can just continue talking to us.”


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