CORRECTED-U.S. consumer agency reviewing fairness of its employee ratings

Fri Mar 7, 2014 2:55pm EST

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(Corrects paragraph one to show agency is in process of hiring firm instead of has hired, corrects paragraph 12 to show process has not been completed)

By Margaret Chadbourn

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hiring an outside firm to study fairness in its employees' performance ratings, the agency said on Friday in response to concerns about discrimination.

The CFPB came under scrutiny after the American Banker, a trade publication that covers the U.S. financial service industry, reported this week that the agency's own data showed white employees were twice as likely to receive a top rating in 2013 than African-American or Hispanic employees.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday demanded information from the agency about its internal management practices, specifically how employees are treated and rated, to ensure a culture of workplace discrimination does not exist.

The CFPB oversees mortgages, credit cards and other consumer-oriented financial products.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas and two fellow Republicans made the request in a letter to the bureau.

"Fewer than half of bureau employees are satisfied with the policies and practices of senior leaders," they wrote in reference to the results of the agency's 2013 annual employer survey. "Fewer than half of bureau employees agree that promotions and pay raises at the bureau are based on merit."

The Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about a number of formal discrimination claims that were filed by CFPB staff on the basis of factors, which can include race, age, and religion.

The CFPB said on Friday that since August 2013, it has received 115 official grievances from its labor organization, the National Treasury Employees Union. Of those, 73 were pending grievances, and 42 had been resolved, were in the process of being resolved, or were not advanced by the union.

The agency had 1,302 employees at the end of September 2013, the end of its fiscal year.

"We hold ourselves to the standards of fairness that we expect of the companies and industries we regulate," said Sam Gilford, an agency spokesman. "We are fully committed to making sure that our talented and diverse staff are treated fairly."

He said the federal bureau initially detected differences in employee ratings through an internal analysis at the end of the year and consulted the union.

The bureau has been conducting "deeper analysis," Gilford said, and would be using an outside firm to examine the employee ratings process. He declined to comment further.

"If the ongoing review finds problems, we will be proactive about taking appropriate corrective actions," said Gilford.

About 47 percent of the agency's staffers were women, and 34 percent identified themselves as minorities, according to an agency report to Congress last year.

The agency was more diverse than other federal regulators, where women accounted for 44 percent and minorities accounted for 29 percent of staff, the report showed.

Republicans have harshly opposed the consumer agency, which was created by the 2010 financial reform law known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. They have made numerous attempts to weaken and defund the regulator.

Democrats have staunchly supported the agency's independence. (Reporting By Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Amanda Kwan)

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