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

Posted: 2:36 am ET


Via 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)).