In the many years that we’ve watched the State Department, or asked questions about assaults, harassment, or domestic violence, we seldom see a public accounting of how the agency handles these cases, particularly overseas. State had such a case in 2018. And we’re only seeing it now because the case landed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC case came from a complainant who was previously assigned to an overseas post in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).
On November 7, 2018, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency [State Department] subjected him to discrimination and a hostile work environment/harassment on the basis of sex (male), status as a parent, and in retaliation for “whistleblower activity”. The EEOC notes that “With respect to Complainant’s allegations on appeal of violations of the U.S. Constitution, whistleblower protection laws, criminal laws, and tortious laws not addressed by EEO laws, these laws are not within the purview of the EEO complaint process.”.
The State Department concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination as alleged. On March 13, 2020, the EEOC issued a decision which affirmed the Agency’s final decision. Excerpt from Appeal No. 2019005790:
The Agency accepted the complaint as to the alleged basis of sex and conducted an investigation, which produced the following pertinent facts:
Complainant was assigned to the Agency’s facility [/], accompanied by his spouse (“Spouse”) (female) and children. He and his family resided in U.S. government-supplied housing.
On September 21, 2018, Spouse reported an incident of domestic violence to the Deputy Regional Security Officer (Deputy RSO), alleging Complainant assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred on September 9, 2018, while they were on vacation in Poland. Deputy RSO attested that, based on Spouse’s report, it was reasonable to believe that domestic violence had occurred, and he reported the situation to the front office and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), as required by Agency policy.
The Agency’s Family Advisory Team (FAT) was advised of Spouse’s report of domestic violence and they recommended that, in the best interest of the family, Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period. One factor in the decision was Spouse’s comment that she was afraid of Complainant’s finding out that she made the report. Members of the FAT recommended the separation out of concern for further violence, without a determination as to the veracity of Spouse’s allegations, until a decision could be made as to the next steps. The Deputy Chief of Mission instructed that Complainant be removed from the residence, pending further deliberations by the FAT.
On September 21, 2018, Deputy RSO and two other Agency employees went to the residence Complainant shared with his Spouse and their children and informed Complaint that he was being relocated to a hotel. Complainant and Spouse were instructed not to contact each other until a decision was made about the alleged domestic violence incident. Complainant cooperated and was escorted to a hotel.
On September 25, 2018, Complainant reported to Deputy RSO that Spouse was the aggressor in the domestic violence incident. Deputy RSO instructed Complainant to communicate with OSI, as they had jurisdiction.
In the instant complaint, Complainant alleged sex was a factor because he was required to leave the residence, while Spouse remained in the home with their children.
On September 26, 2018, Complainant met with a Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Agency security personnel and was informed that he must immediately leave the post and return to the United States. He was given the choice of voluntary or involuntary curtailment. He was informed that the issues facing his family could not be addressed locally and resources were not available to manage his family situation. Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline. He also attested that he selected voluntary curtailment because, even though he was the victim of Spouse’s assault, he did not believe he would have any support at the post.
HRO explained that when there is a conflict between two members of a household and one or more of the individuals are direct hires, the Agency policy is to curtail the direct hire. She further explained that this approach is preferred as there is an unwillingness to involve the local police in a potential domestic violence situation. She explained that the post cannot adjudicate claims and make a determination, as that authority rests with OSI. She explained that the post has no authority to require a family member of a direct hire to leave the country and the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.
The Deputy Chief of Mission attested that she made the decision to curtail Complainant, as this was the third occasion of serious behavioral incidents involving Complainant since he arrived, less than a year ago and, based on the advice from FAT, she instructed that he be given a choice of voluntary or involuntary.
On September 28, 2018, Complainant returned to the United States. Spouse and their children remained behind to pack their belongings and arrived in the United States on October 17, 2018.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Complainant was informed by Diplomatic Security that an update for approval of his security clearance had been initiated “for cause.” Complainant’s security clearance was not scheduled to expire until June 2021. Complainant alleged that the review of his security clearance was initiated by the post to support their decision to remove him from [post].
The Office Director of DS/SI/PSS explained that he was, in part, responsible for the investigation and adjudication of security clearances for the Department and Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports received from a Diplomatic Security investigation alleging potential misconduct. He explained that the investigation was “for cause,” non-routine, and pursuant to regulations.
With respect to the alleged harassment, Complainant attested that, on November 7, 2018, the Agency notified him that he was the subject of an administrative inquiry into allegations that he was a harasser.
He explained that he learned that, during a social setting, he made a comment about Spouse that might have been considered a distasteful joke but did not rise to the level of harassment. He also alleged that, during a meeting with the American Foreign Service Association and Human Resources, a Human Resources representative asked him when he anticipated retiring.
The Agency explained that, following Spouse’s report of domestic violence, the Agency felt it in the best interest of the family that Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period, pending a determination as to what steps were next. The Agency further explained that there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters. The Agency explained that in such situations involving a direct hire employee and an accompanying spouse, it is the Agency’s policy to curtail the direct hire, which would then cause the spouse and family to be required to vacate the government-supplied housing. The Agency also explained that Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports of alleged potential misconduct. We note that, although Complainant and Spouse disagree as to who initiated the domestic violence, Complainant does not deny that the domestic violence occurred. We find the Agency’s actions of separating the spouses, sending the employee back to the United States, and subjecting him to another security investigation to be reasonable under these circumstances. Therefore, although Complainant has alleged discrimination, he has not established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons articulated by the Agency were a pretext for unlawful discrimination or motivated by some unlawful discriminatory animus with respect to any of these claims.
The links to the related regs are below. In this case, State told the EEOC that “there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters.” And yet, 3 FAM 1815.2 says:
d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following: (1) Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases; […] (5) Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children.