Hill v. Pompeo: An African-American DS Agent, Offensive Baboon Gear, and a Removal From Leadership Position

This is a Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lawsuit involving an African-American Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security who joined the State Department in 2002. In September 2013, he joined State’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD). Excerpt below from the May 31, 2020 Memorandum of Opinion by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
Summary:
Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to Hill, it alleges facts to support all three elements of this type of race discrimination claim. First, it alleges that “Hill and Whitaker were the only African American Team 2 members and that the Caucasian Team members had been complaining about them, admitting they did not respect them, and requesting transfers to get away from them since the month after Hill took over as Team Leader.” Compl. ¶ 118. The complaint enumerates multiple instances where the Caucasian team members complained about Hill, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, and sought his removal from his leadership position, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 45, 46, 49. And the ongoing dispute over the Caucasian team members’ use of the baboon logo and their joking references behind Hill’s back to the baboon logo as “racist,” id. ¶ 19, give rise to a reasonable inference that the Caucasian team members’ treatment of Hill was racially discriminatory. Second, “State admits it removed Hill based on the complaints from the Caucasian Team 2 members, making their complaints the proximate cause of the actions taken against Hill.” Id. ¶ 117. Third and finally, a fair inference can be drawn that Collura and Rowan, Hill’s supervisors, should have known that the Caucasian team members’ complaints were racially motivated. See id. ¶ 120. The complaint alleges: (1) a clear fissure between Hill and Whitaker and the Caucasian team members from the very start of Hill’s tenure, see id. ¶¶ 19–29; (2) that Hill complained to his supervisors about team members defying his order not to use the racially offensive baboon logo, see id. ¶ 47; and (3) that several of the Caucasian team members’ complaints about Hill had a questionable basis, see, e.g., id. ¶ 37, 43; yet, (4) “[m]anagement acted on the Team’s accusations against Hill without investigating the facts,” id. ¶ 120. Accepting all of these allegations as true, Collura and Rowan acted negligently by not investigating the Caucasian team members’ complaints before removing Hill from his leadership role.3 And because Collura and Rowan acted negligently with respect to the information the Caucasian team members provided, the racial bias of the team members is imputed to them. See Vasquez, Inc., 835 F.3d at 276. Accordingly, the Court will deny the Secretary’s motion to dismiss the race discrimination claim based on Hill’s removal from his leadership position. 4
4 In contesting this conclusion, the Secretary places heavy reliance on Tallbear v. Perry, 318 F. Supp. 3d 255 (D.D.C. 2018). In that case, the Court dismissed a Title VII race discrimination claim by a plaintiff who alleged that her co-workers had continued to use the word “Redskins” in spite of her objection to the term. Id. at 260–61. But Tallbear’s co-workers used the term in the context of discussing the Washington Redskins, a local professional football team, and there was no indication that they used the word as a racial slur or directed it at Tallbear herself. Id. at 261. Here, in stark contrast, Hill has alleged that his team members explicitly referred to the baboon logo as “racist” and ordered hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon-branded gear behind his back after he, the team leader, explained why the logo was offensive and ordered the team to stop using it. Compl. ¶ 19. Moreover, and more importantly, Hill’s co-workers engaged in extensive and targeted efforts to remove him from his supervisory role, see id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, 45, 46, 49, and those efforts ultimately succeeded, id. ¶ 56.
Background excerpted from court record:

The Office consists of several teams of agents who deploy worldwide to provide specialized training to overseas personnel, as well as security support for potential and actual crises. Id. ¶ 10. At all times relevant to this case, Hill’s first-level supervisor was Justin Rowan, and his second-level supervisor was Nicholas Collura, Deputy Director of the Office. Id. ¶ 11. Both Rowan and Collura are Caucasian. Id.

In March 2014, Hill was assigned to Team 2 of the Office as its Team Leader. Id. ¶ 12. Another Special Agent, Steven Whitaker, was assigned to Team 2 at that same time. Id. ¶ 15. Both Hill and Whitaker are African American. Id. When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, the team consisted of four members, all of whom were Caucasian. Id. ¶ 14. The four Caucasian team members described themselves as close friends. Id.

When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, each of them found a printed image of a baboon—the team’s unofficial logo—at their new desks. Id. ¶ 16. Both Hill and Whitaker were offended by the logo. Id. When Hill officially took over as Team Leader in May 2014, Hill held a team meeting. Id. ¶ 18. At this meeting, Hill explained that he found the baboon logo offensive because of the history of racially derogatory references to apes. Id. Hill instructed the members of Team 2 to stop using the baboon as the team logo. Id.

The Caucasian members of Team 2 continued to use the baboon logo nevertheless. Id. ¶ 19. After Hill banned the logo, the Caucasian team members used their government email accounts to order hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon coins, badges, stickers, and hats. Id. They jokingly referred to the baboon logo and the word baboon as “racist.” Id. They did not tell Hill or Whitaker that they were ordering the baboon gear. Id. Hill soon discovered that his team members were disregarding his order, though; one agent’s phone lock screen was the baboon image and another agent was handing out baboon coins to soldiers and local contacts. Id. ¶ 20

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FSGB Case: When “there were no mitigating circumstances” considered despite conditions identified by MED

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2019-034, July 2, 2020
Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).
Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.” The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing. The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

[…]

We do not claim medical or psychological expertise, but, in our perusal of the record, we found indicators that the charged employee was described as exhibiting personality problems, and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness, from the emails and text messages he sent to former colleagues. For example, in specification 84, the charged employee is charged with offering to help Ms. B draft a complaint and get himself fired and committed to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Also, in specifications 86 and 87, respectively, the charged employee is alleged to have first made reference to someone wanting him to commit suicide, then later noted asking God if his wife would commit suicide and informing Ms. D that the Virgin Mary told him to inform Ms. D that he knew she was worried that he might kill himself. Further, the charged employee displayed unusual behavior when he emailed Ms. B on June 6, 2017 at 8:31 p.m. that he had declined to see a psychiatrist before consulting attorneys about his options to file a lawsuit.11 That suggests the possibility that someone raised with the charged employee the matter of seeking a psychological consultation or examination.
In addition, DS ROI #1 included a statement by the charged employee’s wife that she believed her husband suffered from mental impairment, requiring medical treatment. The record further contains evidence, according to the spouse, that MED had conducted a thorough mental health evaluation of the charged employee on four separate dates. Similarly, DS ROI #2 concluded that the charged employee had expressed that he heard voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary. (See Specifications 6-8, 25, 29, 38, 76 and 87).
[…]
In the instant case, while the agency has provided credible evidence that the charged employee’s conduct does not promote the efficiency of the Service, we find the decision falls short on consideration of so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to personality problems as a mitigating factor. We also credit the charged employee’s 19 years of distinguished service before his display of conduct that gave rise to the LOR and the proposal to separate him from the Service.12
Moreover, the Board is unaware of a requirement that a DO must be privy to private medical information or be a medical professional to initiate an application for disability retirement. To the contrary, under 3 FAM 6164.2-3, HR/ER, in consultation with MED, can initiate an application for disability retirement on behalf of an employee if, inter alia, 1) the agency has issued a proposal to remove the employee, 2) the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that illness may be the cause of the employee’s conduct which renders him unable to work satisfactorily, or 3) the employee is incompetent and there is no guardian willing to file an application on the employee’s behalf. The existence of any one of these three conditions is sufficient for the agency to initiate an action for disability retirement, and the Board finds that the conditions in 1) and 2), supra, are apparent in this case.
Accordingly, the Board is of the view that the agency has not considered all mitigating factors before recommending separation for cause and has not exercised its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement for the charged employee where grounds for such a retirement are apparent on the record. Pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a), MED then would determine whether the charged employee is incapacitated for useful and efficient service, which is the standard for disability retirement.

@StateDept Did Not Comply With Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2018-003
HELD – The Board granted grievant’s appeal, finding that the U.S. Department of State (Department) did not comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to provide grievant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The Board directed, among other things, that the parties engage in the interactive process required under the ADA to determine a reasonable accommodation.
SUMMARY – Due to a lengthy illness with cancer grievant, while serving on a limited noncareer appointment in the consular skill code, did not receive an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) from an overseas posting. A Commissioning and Tenure Board (CTB) deferred a decision on tenure until she was able to be appraised on her performance at an overseas posting. The Department assigned grievant to an overseas posting to enable her to receive such an EER. However, as a consequence of her chemotherapy, grievant experienced neuropathy in her hands, and she developed an allergy to nickel. Accordingly, she requested that she be permanently reassigned assigned to the economic skill code, which she said would require handling a smaller volume of materials. The Department denied that accommodation request but did provide her with special office equipment that it said would address her nickel allergy. Grievant continued to experience neuropathy during her overseas assignment and was medically curtailed from post without receiving an EER. As a result, her next CTB recommended that she not receive tenure, and the Department terminated her appointment. The Board held that the Department failed to meet the requirement under the ADA and Department regulations to engage with an employee with a qualifying disability, such as grievant, in an “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation. Although grievant’s request to be permanently reassigned to another skill code would be a “last resort” under Department regulations, that did not relieve the Department of the duty to consider other options such as assigning grievant to positions in the consular skill code that did not involve processing large numbers of passport and visa applications. Further, the Department had an ongoing duty to find a reasonable accommodation when it became clear that the accommodation it did provide was not effective. Accordingly, the Board directed that when grievant was cleared medically to serve in an overseas posting, the parties engage in the interactive process to identify an effective accommodation for grievant’s disability.

 

FSGB 2020-008: Voluntarily Curtail Under Threat of Involuntary Curtailment or a Bad EER

 

Via FSGB 2020-008
Grievant is a tenured FP-02 Diplomatic Security Special Agent assigned as the Regional Security Officer (“RSO”) at U.S. Embassy [REDACTED] from June 2, 2017 until her involuntary curtailment on May 30, 2019. On July 3, 2019 she filed a complaint with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”) alleging sex, disability and age discrimination and reprisal for prior protected activity. In her S/OCR complaint dated July 3, 2019, she alleged 10 separate incidents of discrimination or reprisal by her rater, the Deputy Chief of Mission (“DCM”). She also alleged that at a May 8, 2019 meeting with the Ambassador (her reviewer), the rater and other senior officials, the Ambassador asked her to voluntarily curtail. When she refused, her rater informed her that her Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) from April 16, 2018 to April 15, 2019 would contain a negative review statement. She ultimately declined to voluntarily curtail.
[…]
Grievant’s recitation of the facts – the underlying transactions – are contained in her agency filing as she has not yet filed her supplemental submission where she would have an opportunity to refine further her claims and remedies. In that filing, she provides extensive background chronicling allegations of sex and other forms of discrimination by her rater, the DCM. She also describes in detail four instances in which she invoked the displeasure of the Ambassador, her reviewer, for raising concerns that his actions or proposed actions constituted security risks. She then describes the removal of laudatory language in the draft rater’s statement and the circumstances surrounding her involuntary curtailment where she claims the DCM threatened to insert a negative reviewer’s statement into her previously drafted EER. She attributes both of these actions to retaliation for informing the DCM that she was initiating S/OCR proceedings.
From footnote, p.9:
“In stating I was going to seek EEO counsel and AFSA guidance related to discrimination I faced from the DCM, as I believe there were reprisal protections in place, I never envisioned I would face retaliation in the form of an involuntarily curtailment. It was only after I stated I was going to seek EEO counseling and AFSA guidance related to the DCM’s changes to the rater statement and then my refusal to voluntarily curtail under threat of involuntarily curtailment that a review statement which contained alleged performance issues materialized in retaliation for not acquiescing to the Front Office’s discrimination and reprisal.”
The FSGB Board issued the following order:
“… the Department’s Motion to Dismiss is denied in its entirety. Since the Department did not consider grievant’s claims on the merits, the Board remands the case to the Department for a decision on the merits. The Department should advise the Board of its decision not later than 45 days from the date of this order. Pending that decision, the Board retains jurisdiction of the case. Once the Department’s amended decision has been issued, grievant will have 60 days to amend her grievance appeal to the Board. In the meantime, the proceedings before the Board are stayed. The timeline for discovery will start anew when grievant files her amended appeal or advises the Board that no such amended appeal will be forthcoming.”
The FSGB files are not readable online; the files have to be downloaded first. Click here and locate FSGB 2020-008 from “Decision and Orders 2020” to read the full Motion to Dismiss order.

FSGB’s Noteworthy Cases Filed in 2019 and Pending Decision

The following cases are extracted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board’s 2019 Annual Report dated February 2020:
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-045 was assigned to a country where the Zika virus was widespread. When his wife became pregnant, she was medically evacuated from the post. When the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, State/MED contacted grievant’s wife and instructed her to forward the results of genetic testing done on the fetus, and she complied. Grievant claims that the Department gained access to these records under false pretenses and shared them in violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). He has asked that State/MED destroy the records. The Department has asserted that the Board lacks jurisdiction over the claims, and that grievant’s redress is through the Privacy Act.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-036 is an employee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He was hired in a position that had a salary cap of FP-02. In 2012, grievant was assigned to a position designated FP1/SFS (Senior Foreign Service). Grievant claims that at the time it was agreed that a mechanism would be found to lift the cap so he could compete for promotion to the higher grade. In 2012, a personnel form SF-50 was issued showing a skill code change to effect the desired change in status. Subsequently, however, the Human Resources Office advised grievant that the conversion was done incorrectly and that he was not eligible for promotion until the issue was resolved. Grievant claims that despite repeated requests from him, nothing has been done.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-020 claims that the Department retaliated against him when he questioned three grant activities involving his predecessor on the grounds of conflict of interest and violations of the ethics regulations. He claims that, as a consequence, his responsibilities were reduced and, ultimately, he was asked to curtail from post.
FSGB Case No. 2019-008 involves four claims, one of which is being resolved separately. In the first three claims, grievant challenges the Developmental Areas of three EERs and a low-ranking statement. In the fourth claim, grievant contends that his security clearance was wrongfully suspended and revoked. Although his clearance has subsequently been reinstated, he claims that harm to his career resulted.
In FSGB Case No. 2019-052, the grievant was assigned to a country in which the ambassador was a political appointee of the previous administration. Grievant believed she enjoyed good relations with him, despite a number of difficult issues the embassy encountered. However, when the ambassador chose to leave post early, he advised grievant that he was requesting her involuntary curtailment. On the advice of colleagues, she instead opted for a voluntary curtailment. She claims that although she was told by post management at the time that she would not be receiving an EER, she was later given one for a four-month period. That EER was the basis for a low ranking. Grievant claims that the EER includes a number of falsely prejudicial statements as well as procedural errors.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-040 is a female officer who claims that an EER she received is the result of gender bias and retaliation on the part of her rater. The EER formed a basis for low ranking.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-039 was the subject of an investigation, on the basis of which the Department originally recommended a 45-day suspension. While the charges were pending, the grievant was reached for promotion; however, the promotion was withheld pending the close of the disciplinary proceedings. Grievant was advised at the time that if the charges were resolved satisfactorily, his promotion would be made retroactive. At the close of the disciplinary procedures a number of years later, the penalty was reduced to a letter of admonishment. However, the Department maintains that the White House currently will not forward recommendations for retroactive promotions to the Senate for confirmation. It therefore forwarded a recommendation for promotion in 2019, not to be retroactive. Grievant claims back pay and benefits to the time he was reached for promotion.
The grievants in FSGB Case No. 2019-021 are new FSOs hired while already living in the Washington, DC area. They claim that they were improperly denied locality pay while assigned to long-term training prior to their first overseas assignments.
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2019-024 is part of a tandem couple. When she was assigned to her first overseas post, her husband was granted Leave Without Pay to accompany her. According to State regulations, his official assignment was therefore Washington, D.C. Grievant and her husband returned to Washington after that assignment, in transit to their next post, where she took home leave and annual leave and had four months of language training. Rather than considering grievant as being on TDY and thus entitled to receive per diem, the Department classified her as having the same status as her husband, a Washington-based assignment, in accordance with its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on tandem couples. Grievant contends this is a violation of Department regulations, which treat each member of the Service as individuals entitled to their own benefits. Approximately one year after the grievance was filed, the Department, with AFSA approval, modified the operative SOP to permit tandem employees in grievant’s circumstances to be on TDY and receive per diem; however, the Department maintains that the modification was not retroactive and, therefore, does not apply to grievant.

Grievant Claims @StateDept Failed to Follow Required Procedures, So What Happened Next?

 

Via FSGB 2019 Annual Report, February 2020:
The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-051, who was slated for separation, contested statements in an EER relied upon by Commissioning and Tenure Boards (CTBs) that deferred and ultimately denied him tenure. He also challenged the conclusions of the second CTB, as indicated in its counseling statement, on procedural grounds. The Board found one statement in the EER to be falsely prejudicial and ordered it redacted. It also found the second CTB had violated the precepts by failing to take into account that earlier performance weaknesses had been overcome. The Board ordered that the CTB decisions to defer and deny tenure be rescinded.
The grievant in this case raised a third issue that was advanced in several other cases. He claimed that the Department failed to follow required procedures by having CTBs composed of only five members, rather than the six required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) (including one non-State member). The Department argued that a five-member CTB was a long-running practice to which AFSA had agreed. The Board found that the five-member CTB did not comply with the applicable FAM requirements and provided another ground for relief. The Department has requested reconsideration of this aspect of the decision, which is pending. The Department has since amended the FAM to require only five members.
On April 16, 2019, the State Department updated the composition of the CTB to consist only of five members:
3 FAH-1 H-2246  THE COMMISSIONING AND TENURE BOARD
3 FAH-1 H-2246.1  Composition
(CT:POH-216;   04-16-2019)
(State Only)
(Applies to Foreign Service Only)
The Commissioning and Tenure Board (Board) will consist of five members of the Foreign Service of the Department of State, one from each of the five skill codes/occupational categories (management, consular, economic, political, and public diplomacy), of class FS-01 and above.  The most senior member will serve as the chairperson. Among the members, at least one will be a member of a minority group and one a woman.

FSGB Annual Report 2018: Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

 

The following is excerpted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2018. This is a good time to remind folks that while names/posts and identifying details are typically redacted from the Record of Proceedings (ROPs) routinely posted in the publicly available website fsgb.gov, once the case is filed in federal court, the records are usually publicly accessible and are unredacted (unless the case is sealed).

As described in last year’s report, USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. After two hearings, the Board approved the agency’s decision. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In a decision issued October 12, 2018, the court upheld the Board’s decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. The grievant has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the District Court’s and Board’s construction of section 7(b) of the IG Act, which protects the confidentiality of employee informants.

In FSGB Case No. 2014-018, the grievant had requested a waiver of collection of a substantial overpayment of her deceased mother’s survivor’s annuity. The Department contended that she was not entitled to consideration of a waiver because the overpayment was made to her mother’s estate; under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued January 19, 2018, the D.C. district court found that the regulation denying waivers to estates was valid, but that the FSGB had erred in determining that the overpayments were made to the mother’s estate rather than to grievant as an individual. The court remanded the case for the Department and the Board to decide the request for the waiver on its merits. The waiver request is currently pending with the Department.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2015-016 filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 against the Department and his former rater and reviewer requesting monetary damages related to the Board’s denial of his grievance. He had contested two EERs and a low ranking. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely in a decision issued March 30, 2018. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that decision on December 28, 2018.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-005 contended that he was deprived of certain benefits, such as promotion consideration, during a five-year assignment to an international organization. The Department found him ineligible for the benefits because his assignment to the organization was effected through a “separation and transfer” agreement, rather than a “detail.” The Board affirmed the Department’s decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colombia upheld that decision on appeal in a decision issued in 2016. The grievant had also appealed the Board’s decision in a second, related, case, FSGB Case No 2014-024, in which he had claimed certain benefits based upon his separation and transfer and subsequent reemployment with the Department. The Board dismissed his second grievance on the grounds of claims preclusion. In a decision issued March 14, 2018, the district court concluded that the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law and dismissed his claims. The grievant appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and that matter remains pending.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-014 was denied tenure and scheduled for separation from the Foreign Service. Consequently, the Department ordered her to leave her overseas post and assigned her to a position in Washington, D.C. The grievant filed a grievance with the Department challenging her transfer on several bases. The Department denied the grievance, and the grievant appealed to the Board. The Board denied all of grievant’s claims. It further found that, since no statute or regulation had been violated, it lacked jurisdiction to overturn an assignment decision. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. In a decision issued September 24, 2018, the court affirmed the Board’s decision.

Decisions were issued this year in two other cases filed by the same grievant, stemming from the same sets of circumstances but not involving appeals of Department or Board grievances. The grievant filed a case under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and benefits. She claimed that the Department discriminated against her by paying her less and providing her with fewer benefits than a similarly-situated male employee. The court initially dismissed the case, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the same appeal was pending in another court at the time she filed. However, that decision was overturned by the circuit court and the case was remanded to the Court of Claims. The grievant also filed two identical complaints in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Department under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In both cases, the court dismissed all but one of the claims. The grievant also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging nearly identical discrimination and retaliation by the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has stayed its proceedings pending a decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands case.

An appeal of the Board’s 2017 decision by the State Department and USAID/OIG in another long-running case remains pending in the D.C. District Court following briefing of crossmotions for summary judgment in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ). As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-031 contested the decision to calculate his retirement annuity based on the application of a pay cap on his special differential pay that had not been applied when his salary was paid. In 2014, the Board initially upheld the agency’s decision. On grievant’s appeal, the district court in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board in FSGB Case No. 2013-031R and No. 2016-030 issued a decision granting the grievant calculation and payment of his annuity that he sought. The Board denied the Department’s request for reconsideration of that decision. The Department and USAID/OIG jointly appealed the Board’s decision on remand to the district court in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ).

The 2015 Annual Report reported that the grievant filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 in Federal District Court, District of Colombia, claiming that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act when it separated her. That appeal is still pending.

#

FSGB finds no merit in argument that @StateDept has “unfettered discretion” to grant or deny SNEA benefit

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-016:

“The Department next argues that its granting a SNEA under section 5924 is “discretionary,” and in any event must be paid in accordance with the DSSRs. As we have previously stated, the prior authorization the grievants sought, for reimbursement after their arrival at post, is fully consistent with the DSSRs. Further, we find no merit to the argument that the Department has unfettered discretion under section 5924 to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.”

Via giphy.com

Grievant Prevails Over Diplomatic Security’s Duplicative Disciplinary Actions

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-027

HELD – The Board held that the Department failed to meet its burden of proving that it did not violate agency policy when it imposed a second round of discipline (a two-day suspension without pay) after grievant had previously received several oral admonishments) for the same act of misconduct.

… Grievant accessed the CCD and reviewed the female friend’s visa records. He then sent an email on May 24, 2013 to the Consular Officer who had adjudicated the visa application, asking why the visa had not been approved and whether there was anything the applicant could do to “overcome” the disapproval.

The email read in part:

I explained to [the inquiring REDACTED Official] that the visa issuance process is an independent process done by the consular section at the respective embassy [sic] and that I have no involvement in the process or adjudication of the application, but that I would check with the embassy to see if there was anything that she could do or provide to overcome the refusal. Is there anything the applicant could do or provide to overcome the 214(B) refusal? Or is it pretty solid given no local employment and only having recently started her studies in business admin?

Grievant did not receive a response to his inquiry and he took no further action

CASE SUMMARY – In May 2013, grievant, a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent, received a request from a professional colleague inquiring about a visa denial of a female friend of another colleague. Grievant accessed the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to determine who the Consular Officer was for the visa denial and drafted an email to that officer inquiring whether there was anything his contact could do regarding the denial. Within a few days, the Visa Chief at the post that made the visa decision, wrote to the Consular Integrity Division of DS (DS/CID) advising that grievant had apparently accessed the CCD without a work related need to do so. DS/CID passed the matter to the Chief of the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Criminal Division (DS/ICI/CR). The Chief of DS/ICI/CR consulted with the Supervisory Special Agent of DS/CID and with the Chief of the Criminal Fraud Investigations Branch (CFI) before deciding to refer the matter to grievant’s immediate supervisors for whatever action they deemed appropriate.

Two of grievant’s supervisors opened administrative inquiries in June 2013, contacted grievant, learned from him that he immediately acknowledged the improper access of the CCD and each decided to give grievant an oral admonishment. One additional supervisor also admonished grievant orally. All management officials concluded that no further action was necessary. Grievant was so informed by at least two of these officials.

In the fall of 2014, the DS Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI) informed grievant that it was opening an investigation into the same matter. During an interview with grievant and his counsel, grievant advised that he had already been counseled for this act of misconduct. He provided proof that he had been admonished; however, he was proposed for a three-day suspension that was later mitigated to two days. The suspension proposal was sustained by the Department and grievant served the two-day suspension.

A grievance regarding duplicative discipline was denied by the agency. On appeal, the Board concluded that all regulatory steps had been followed by grievant’s supervisor who initially determined that he was the appropriate official, in consultation with others at DS, to determine what discipline should be imposed. The Board further concluded that administrative inquiries were properly conducted by additional supervisors after evidence was gathered, grievant was consulted, and all appropriate factors were considered. The Board found that specific agency policy precluded grievant from being subjected to a second disciplinary process. Accordingly, the Board held that the Department was obligated to refund grievant’s pay and benefits lost during the suspension; his Official Performance Folder should have all references to the suspension proposal and decision removed; and that grievant’s OPF should be reviewed by reconstituted Selection Boards for each year (2017 and possibly 2018) in which the suspension letter was in the file.

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Is this how you keep a potentially embarrassing case away from public eyes?

 

Via FSGB 2018 Annual Report:

In FSGB Case No. 2018-001, an FS-01 appealed a 3-day suspension on a charge of Conduct Unbecoming. The charge arose from allegations that he facilitated the inappropriate hiring of a former political appointee. Grievant contends that, although he was the hiring official, all of his actions were at the direction of senior bureau staff and in consultation with the bureau’s administrative staff. The case was settled and withdrawn.

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FSGB Case No. 2018-001: On March 1, 2018, the Foreign Service Grievance Board received a Notice of Withdrawal from grievant’s attorney, {Attorney’s Name}, stating as follows: “Grievant, {Grievant’s Name}, through counsel, {Attorney’s Name}, hereby withdraws his grievance appeal filed on January 3, 2018, with prejudice. The parties have settled their dispute.”  The Notice of Withdrawal has been entered in the record of proceedings, and the record is now closed.

We understand that because this case was settled and withdrawn there is no actual FSGB decision in the case; thus, there is no publicly available record of the case. Presumably State/HR/Grievance has the paper trail and the finer details, but for now, because the case was settled we won’t know who is the ex-political appointee, which bureau was involved, which senior bureau … er staffers were responsible, or the terms of the settlement.  One wonders if the State Department settled this case because it did not want the details in public view, or if grievant has the “receipts” that could get higher ups in a specific bureau in trouble?

via tumblr.com

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