EEOC Awards $60K For USNATO Brussels’ Failure to “Reasonably Accommodate” @StateDept Employee

Posted: 2:36 am ET

 

Via eeoc.gov/vol 1/FY18:

Commission Increased Award of Damages to $60,000. The Commission previously affirmed the Agency’s finding that it failed to reasonably accommodate Complainant. Following an investigation of Complainant’s claim for damages, the Agency awarded Complainant $10,500 in non-pecuniary damages. On appeal, the Commission affirmed the Agency’s decision not to award pecuniary damages, finding insufficient documentary proof to support such an award. The Commission, however, increased the award of non-pecuniary damages to $60,000. The Agency conceded that Complainant established a nexus between the harm he sustained and the discrimination. The record evidence confirmed that over a three-year period, Complainant experienced an exacerbation of his pre-existing conditions caused by stress created by the Agency’s discriminatory actions. Complainant stated that he experienced anxiety, irritability, insomnia and loss of consortium, and indicated that he did not go out socially. He also noted that he experienced headaches, and night sweats, and was forced to increase his medication when the Agency refused to accommodate him. The evidence supported Complainant’s assertion that his condition had stabilized prior to the discrimination, and the Agency was liable for the worsening of Complainant’s condition. Irvin W. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120141773 (Oct. 28, 2016).

Here is a quick summary of the case:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as an Information Management Specialist at the Agency’s U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium.  On September 11, 2009, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the basis of disability (Sjogrens Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Anxiety) when the Agency failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation of his disability. After an investigation, Complainant requested the Agency issued a final decision.  In its decision, the Agency found Complainant established he was subjected to discrimination when he was denied an accommodation.  As relief, the Agency ordered that Complainant be provided with a reasonable accommodation. On July 14, 2011, Complainant appealed the decision, and we affirmed the Agency’s finding on liability, and remanded the matter to the Agency so that it could conduct a supplementary investigation into Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages.  After conducting an investigation, the Agency issued its decision on March 12, 2014 awarding Complainant $10,500.00 in non-pecuniary damages. Specifically, the Agency found that Complainant’s pre-existing condition was largely the cause of Complainant’s physical and emotional distress during this time, and that the amount awarded was meant to compensate Complainant for the worsening of that condition.  The Agency disagreed with Complainant’s claim that his condition had stabilized by the time he arrived in Brussels, as evidence revealed he was still on a large dosage of steroids in July 2008, weeks before he began working.  Although Complainant alleged that he suffered from a loss of bone density (Osteopenia) as a result of his long term steroid use, the Agency determined that there was insufficient evidence that this was as a result of the discrimination.  Furthermore, although Complainant suffered emotional distress related to the discrimination, such distress occurred prior to his request for reasonable accommodation, which the Agency could not be held liable for.  In sum, the Agency concluded that Complainant’s condition was inherently unpredictable, and accordingly, his symptoms were unrelated to the discrimination itself.  Accordingly, the Agency concluded that $10,500.00 was an appropriate amount to compensate Complainant for the emotional distress he suffered.  The Agency declined to award any pecuniary damages in response to Complainant’s request.  This appeal followed.
[…]
Based upon the evidence provided by Complainant, we find the Agency’s award of $10,500.00 to be inadequate to remedy the harm caused by the Agency.  The Commission notes that record evidence confirmed that over a three year period, Complainant experienced an exacerbation of his pre-existing conditions for which he sought treatment caused by the stress created by the Agency’s discriminatory actions.  Complainant asserts that he suffered from anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and loss of consortium.  He maintains he did not go out socially, and suffered from headaches, night sweats and loss of bone density.  Most notably, he states he had tapered down his steroid dosage prior to reporting to Brussels, but was forced to increase the medication when the Agency refused to provide him with an accommodation of his disability.  We find the evidence supports Complainant’s position that his condition had stabilized and thus, the Agency is liable for the worsening of his condition. The Commission finds that an award of $60,000.00 is reasonable under the circumstances. See Complainant v. Dep’t of Transp., EEOC Appeal No. 0720140022 (Sept. 16, 2015) (Complainant awarded $60,000.00 where Agency’s failure to accommodate resulted in depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and exacerbation of existing symptoms); Complainant v. Soc. Sec. Admin., EEOC Appeal No. 0720130013 (Aug. 14, 2014) (Complainant awarded $60,000.00 where Agency’s failure to accommodate resulted in exacerbation of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress, and elevated blood pressure); Henery v. Dep’t of the Navy, EEOC Appeal No. 07A50034 (Sept. 22, 2005) ($65,000.00 awarded where Complainant suffered from frustration, negativity, and loss of sleep for a four-year period, as well as physical pain associated with the resulting excessive walking. The discrimination caused significant increase in Complainant’s need for medical treatment, as well as an increase in physical and emotional harm). The Commission finds that this amount takes into account the severity of the harm suffered and his pre-existing condition, and is also consistent with prior Commission precedent. Finally, the Commission finds this award is not “monstrously excessive” standing alone, is not the product of passion or prejudice, and is consistent with the amount awarded in similar cases.  See Jackson v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC Appeal No. 01972555 (Apr. 15, 1999) (citing Cygnar v. City of Chicago, 865 F. 2d 827, 848 (7th Cir. 1989)).

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New Embassy The Hague Opens Today at #JohnAdamsPark1

Posted: 3:14 am ET

 

Now we know why the State Department wanted Ambassador Hoekstra to put that recent controversy behind him quickly (Amb. Hoekstra Apologizes For Netherlands Comment: “It Was Wrong”). That is, he did not have to attempt to put out fire as the United States open its New Embassy Compound in the Netherlands.

The new U.S. Embassy campus opens today at a new location at John Adams Park, a 10-acre site in the municipality of Wassenaar. The new compound includes a chancery office building, a U.S. Marine Corps residence, a utility building, and multiple access pavilions. The State Department says that “It  will provide a secure, modern, and environmentally sustainable platform for diplomacy in The Hague.” Also:

The buildings, while American in character, reflect sensibilities that are Dutch. The most important aspect of this is the use of brick for the building façades, which is prolifically used as a façade material in the Netherlands. Other buildings on the campus, including utility buildings, will be clad in brick to provide uniformity to the campus. The use of brick is not limited to the building facades, but extends to other site elements such as bridges, and even the pavers of the walkways throughout the campus. The Chancery façade will also include the use of white granite at the entrance. This design concept pays homage to important Dutch buildings, which also display this convention.

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@StateDept Launches New System of Records to Capture All Emails — Hunting For Leakers, Plus Other Stuff

Posted: 1:55 am ET

 

We just stumbled into a December 12, 2017 announcement on the Federal Register about a “New System of Records” signed by Mary R. Avery, the Senior Agency Official for Privacy in the Office of Global Information Services of the State Department’s Bureau of Administration. The notice says that the “purpose of the Email Archive Management Records system is to capture all emails and attachments that interact with a Department of State email account and to store them in a secure repository that allows for search, retrieval, and view when necessary.”

In accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552a(e)(4) and (11), this system of records takes effect upon publication, with the exception of the routine uses that are subject to a 30-day period during which interested persons may submit comments to the Department.

The individuals covered by this new system? All State Department folks with state.gov emails, including people with interactions to those state.gov accounts, or mentioned in those email accounts:

“Individuals who maintain a Department of State email account that is archived in the system. The system may also include information about individuals who interact with a Department of State email account, as well as individuals who are mentioned in a Department of State email message or attachment.”

“The records in this system include email messages and attachments associated with a Department of State email account, including any information that may be included in such messages or attachments. The system may also include biographic and contact information of individuals who maintain a Department of State email account, including name, address, email address, and phone number.”

The location of this new system is reportedly at the State Department or annexes and post overseas but also that information “may also be stored within a government-certified cloud, implemented, and overseen by the Department’s Messaging Systems Office (MSO.”  

Does anyone know if this new system is managed by a specific contractor or contractors, and if so, which one/s?

Note that the new system does not just capture “record” emails for federal record purposes, but “all” emails.  The hunt for leakers starts here? Although if you read carefully item #f below, it looks like emails will also be shared and screened for potential insider attacks, not just on networks, but for “for terrorist screening, threat-protection and other homeland security purposes.”

And item #h… oh, my … for people with planned or ongoing litigations!  It has always been said that employees should have no expectation of privacy when using government systems; this new system clarifies it for everyone on how the State Department intends to use and share information in its email system.

Information in this new system may be shared with the following:

(a) Other federal agencies, foreign governments, and private entities where relevant and necessary for them to review or consult on documents that implicate their equities;

(b) a contractor of the Department having need for the information in the performance of the contract, but not operating a system of records within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. 552a(m).

(c) appropriate agencies, entities, and persons when (1) the Department of State suspects or has confirmed that there has been a breach of the system of records; (2) the Department of State has determined that as a result of the suspected or confirmed breach there is a risk of harm to individuals, the Department of State (including its information systems, programs, and operations), the Federal Government, or national security; and (3) the disclosure made to such agencies, entities, and persons is reasonably necessary to assist in connection with the Department of State efforts to respond to the suspected or confirmed breach or to prevent, minimize, or remedy such harm.

(d) another Federal agency or Federal entity, when the Department of State determines that information from this system of records is reasonably necessary to assist the recipient agency or entity in (1) responding to a suspected or confirmed breach or (2) preventing, minimizing, or remedying the risk of harm to individuals, the recipient agency or entity (including its information systems, programs, and operations), the Federal Government, or national security, resulting from a suspected or confirmed breach.

(e) an agency, whether federal, state, local or foreign, where a record indicates a violation or potential violation of law, whether civil, criminal or regulatory in nature, and whether arising by general statute or particular program statute, or by regulation, rule or order issued pursuant thereto, so that the recipient agency can fulfill its responsibility to investigate or prosecute such violation or enforce or implement the statute, rule, regulation, or order.

(f) the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), or other appropriate federal agencies, for the integration and use of such information to protect against terrorism, if that record is about one or more individuals known, or suspected, to be or to have been involved in activities constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism. Such information may be further disseminated by recipient agencies to Federal, State, local, territorial, tribal, and foreign government authorities, and to support private sector processes as contemplated in Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-6 and other relevant laws and directives, for terrorist screening, threat-protection and other homeland security purposes.

(g) a congressional office from the record of an individual in response to an inquiry from the Congressional office made at the request of that individual.

(h) a court, adjudicative body, or administrative body before which the Department is authorized to appear when (a) the Department; (b) any employee of the Department in his or her official capacity; (c) any employee of the Department in his or her individual capacity where the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) or the Department has agreed to represent the employee; or (d) the Government of the United States, when the Department determines that litigation is likely to affect the Department, is a party to litigation or has an interest in such litigation, and the use of such records by the Department is deemed to be relevant and necessary to the litigation or administrative proceeding.

(i) the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for its use in providing legal advice to the Department or in representing the Department in a proceeding before a court, adjudicative body, or other administrative body before which the Department is authorized to appear, where the Department deems DOJ’s use of such information relevant and necessary to the litigation, and such proceeding names as a party or interests:

(a) The Department or any component of it;

(b) Any employee of the Department in his or her official capacity;

(c) Any employee of the Department in his or her individual capacity where DOJ has agreed to represent the employee; or

(d) The Government of the United States, where the Department determines that litigation is likely to affect the Department or any of its components.

(j) the National Archives and Records Administration and the General Services Administration: For records management inspections, surveys and studies; following transfer to a Federal records center for storage; and to determine whether such records have sufficient historical or other value to warrant accessioning into the National Archives of the United States.

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Photo of the Day: Tillerson Meets With Ambassadors/CDAs During Regional Chiefs of Mission Meeting

Posted: 12:27 am ET

 

click image for larger view                                                                                 Secretary Tillerson Meets With U.S. Ambassadors and Chargé d’Affaires During a Regional Chiefs of Mission Meeting | U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses for a photo with thirteen U.S. Ambassadors and Chargé d’Affaires during a regional Chiefs of Mission meeting (L to R) Kent Logsdon, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Germany, Lewis M. Eisenberg, U.S. Ambassador to the Italian Republic, and the Republic of San Marino, Matthew Lussenhop, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Reece Smyth, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Ireland, Thomas Williams, Acting DCM, U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Kerri S. Hannan, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, Richard Duke Buchan III, U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra, Jamie D. McCourt, U.S. Ambassador to the French Republic and Principality of Monaco, Peter Hoekstra, U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, George E. Glass, U.S. Ambassador to the Portuguese Republic, Callista Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Edward “Ed” McMullen, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Adam Shub, Chargé d’Affaires a.i., U.S. Mission to the European Union in Paris, France on January 23, 2018. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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Inbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

In response to our recent post, Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints, we received an email from a reader who gave us permission to share the following, purposely stripped of specific details for obvious reasons:

“I want to comment on your post about the letter Congressman Cummings wrote to Secretary Tillerson. I filed an EEO complaint against the agency and have suffered immensely in my professional and personal life. What struck out to me from your post was this: “victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.” I can tell you that going to Congress or the press is absolutely something I’m pondering, and it’s precisely for the reason you stated. There is no real recourse or redress. There is zero accountability. The State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media. I probably won’t be the one to lead the charge. The State Department has caused enough damage in my life, but it definitely needs to be accountable to SOMEONE. I hope a new era is on the horizon, but I won’t be holding my breath.”

 

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@TheOnion Exclusive: Secretary Tillerson Having a Blast in Foggy Bottom

Posted: 1:21 am ET

 

Remember The Many Adventures of Secretary of State John Kerry (2013-2017) via The Onion?  Several months after he took office, Secretary Tillerson also got The Onion treatment (see here, here, and here)  But the latest update has the potential to make our top diplomat go viral. Given the 7th Floor’s legendary lack of humor, IMOs may soon get an IMMEDIATE instruction to keep Foggy Bottom’s eyeballs away. Hurrrry! Read it here before the Bureau of Public Affairs asks The Onion to take it down!

“Leaping out from behind a wall as Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” blared from the building’s intercom, a pantless Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slid across the waxed marble floors of the completely empty State Department, sources confirmed Wednesday.”

Bob Seger! The Onion really outdid itself with that music; too bad there’s no YouTube video! We heard that we may have to wait a while for the Gobi Desert, or the Isle of Embers adventures because he’s busy with his passion project.

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@USAID Suspends Involvement in Tillerson’s Redesign Passion Project

Posted: 12:58 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS —

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Senate Finally Confirms Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large, Kansas Sighs With Relief

Posted: 12:27 am ET

 

On January 24, the Senate finally confirmed the nomination of Governor Samuel Brownback to be the Ambassador-at-Large at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. The office resides under the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) which in under the umbrella of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. The previous appointees to this position includes David Nathan Saperstein (2015), Suzan Denise Johnson Cook (2011–2013), John V. Hanford 3rd (2002–2009), and Robert A. Seiple (1999–2000). The office is responsible for the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

Via state.gov:

In October 1998, President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), passed unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Act mandated the establishment of an Office of International Religious Freedom within the Department of State, headed by an Ambassador-at-Large who serves as principal advisor to the President and Secretary of State in matters concerning religious freedom abroad.

The Act has been amended a number of times over the years, most recently by the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which President Obama signed into law in December 2016. 22 U.S. Code Chapter 73.

The IRFA requires the preparation and transmittal to Congress of an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom detailing the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, violations of religious freedom by foreign governments, and United States’ actions and policies in support of religious freedom. Separately, the IRFA also requires that each year the President designate as a “Country of Particular Concern” each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.

Per annual designation under IRFA, the Secretary of State designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. On January 4, 2018, the Department of State announced that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

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Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints

Posted: 12:47 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about Senators seeking a review/analysis of @StateDept and @USAID sexual harassment and assault data. We have issues with the current harassment data, and sexual assault data in particularly is hard to come by. We want to know how many sexual harassment settlements were made, and how much. We also want to know how many sexual assaults reports have been made, how many cases were refused prosecution by the Department of Justice, and what happens to these cases/victims and their careers. We realized that we can scream our head off in this blog, but only Congress can force the State Department to make this data public (anonymized with no personally identifiable information). That time may be slow in coming, but it is coming.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on January 22 sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson requesting information about members of the Department’s Senior Executive Service (SES) who have been the subjects of multiple complaints, including Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints. We don’t know what are the specific complaints in this case but EEOC discrimination complaint types include AgeDisabilityEqual Pay/CompensationGenetic InformationHarassmentNational OriginPregnancyRace/ColorReligionRetaliationSex, and Sexual Harassment.

Representative Cummings notes in his letter that “Several career employees at the State Department, including one of my constituents, have written to me raising serious allegations that the Department has repeatedly failed to eliminate the hostile work environment created by a member of the SES, [NAME REDACTED].” Mr. Cummings letter says that the employees indicated to him that numerous complaints have been filed against this individual “that resulted in settlements, but the Department has taken little action to hold this executive accountable or protect employees from abusive management practices.”

We understand that there are multiple individuals involved in the complaints shared with the House Oversight Committee but we don’t know the exact numbers, and whether or not this specific inquiry involves one specific SES member or more. It is telling that the trend on the complaints has moved to the Hill, and no longer localized within the agency. Is this an indicator that the current reporting system is not responsive to the needs of those affected? Or are we just living in a different era?  We do not want to see a trial by media, especially in the hands of politicians, but victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.

Also worth noting that Mr. Cumming’s request is specific to the Senior Executive Service, the senior ranks of the Civil Service, and does not include the senior ranks of the Foreign Service.

Mr. Cummings letter is asking the State Department to respond to the following requests:

1. an itemized list, with personally identifiable information removed, enumerating  each informal and formal complaint filed against [NAME REDACTED] at any time during his career, including but not limited to EEO complaints, citing:

  • (a) the date on which each complaint was filed;
  • (b) the base(s) of the complaint;
  • (c) the dates on which the complaint advanced through the informal and formal complaint steps;
  • (d) whether there was any finding arising from the complaint that discriminatory or retaliatory action had occurred;
  • (e) whether the complaint resulted in a settlement; and
  • (f) the terms of any settlement (including any monetary amounts included in the settlement); and

2. The number of Senior Executives against whom more than one informal or formal complaint has been filed with the Department of State at any time during the past five years.

3. All Department policies governing how evaluations of Senior Executives’ performance account for their work creating equality of opportunity for all employees.

See HOGR Cummings January 22, 2018 letter to Tillerson

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@JonHuntsman and @usconsvlad Jump Into Icy Water For Orthodox Epiphany

Posted: 12:02 am ET

 

The US Ambassador to Moscow Jon Huntsman and Consul General Michael Keays (and staffers) of US Consulate Vladivostok in separate events marked the Orthodox Ephiphany like millions of Russians by jumping into freezing waters. Take a look. We felt the polar woes just watching. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!

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