Commission Increased Award of Damages to $50,000.
The Agency found that Complainant was denied reasonable accommodation, and awarded him $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. The Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal. The Commission found that Complainant’s pre-existing knee injury was aggravated when the Agency denied Complainant access to a closer parking lot and required that he walk up a steep hill to and from his building even though his work restrictions on file limited his walking and restricted him from climbing steep hills. The Commission considered statements from Complainant’s wife and two coworkers, who indicated that Complainant’s behavior changed following the denial of accommodation. These individuals noted Complainant was no longer a “happy-go-lucky guy,” had sleepless nights, became disengaged from his family, and was a “different person” after the discrimination. The Commission concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support an award of $50,000, which was consistent with awards in similar cases. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s denial of past pecuniary damages finding that Complainant had not provided any documentation to support his purported personal costs associated with the discrimination. Lowell H. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal 2019003637 (June 16, 2020).
Details below from EEOC Appeal:
During the period at issue, Complainant worked as a Motor Vehicle Operator, GS-8, at the Agency’s Operations Division in Washington, D.C.
On January 3, 2018, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint claiming that the Agency discriminated against him based on disability (torn left medical collateral ligament (MCL) in left knee, torn left rotator cuff and left toe)2 when:
1. Complainant was denied a reasonable accommodation;
2. on August 17, 2017, Complainant received a memo regarding disciplinary action;
3. on September 20, 2017, Complainant received a Letter of Warning; and
4. Complainant was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to heightened scrutiny regarding his requests for leave, inappropriate language, and yelling.
Complainant was diagnosed with these conditions following a December 17, 2016 work-related injury. The injuries restricted Complainant to driving no more than four hours a day, limited Complainant’s use of his left arm to handle luggage, and limited walking to no more than twenty-five feet (including no climbing of steep hills).
On November 7, 2018, following an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision concluding that Complainant had established a failure to accommodate his disability in connection with parking privileges, the approval of leave requests, and the issuance of a letter of warning. For relief, the Agency ordered, among other remedies, a supplemental investigation into his claim for compensatory damages.
On April 10, 2019, the Agency issued a final decision on compensatory damages. The Agency rejected Complainant’s request for $300,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. Instead, the Agency awarded Complainant $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. In reaching this amount, the Agency reasoned that Complainant did not provide sufficient evidence to support that he suffered any long or short term physical or mental harm due to being denied his preferred parking arrangement, denied consideration of his leave requests, or being issued attendance-related discipline. With respect to his parking assignment, the Agency noted that Complainant indicated that his parking assignment at Navy Hill “aggravated” his pre-existing knee injury, without explaining the extent or type of aggravation he experienced. The Agency also disputed Complainant’s claim that he missed “a few sessions of therapy,” and indicated that the Agency’s November 7, 2018 decision only determined that Complainant was denied leave for one medical appointment. Finally, the Agency indicated that Complainant’s request for $300,000 is more akin to a request for punitive damages, even though punitive damages are not permitted on a federal-sector complaint.
The Agency awarded $2,000 in nonpecuniary damages. We find, however, that that an award of $50,000 is more consistent with the amounts awarded in similar cases.