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Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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Posted: 1:50 am ET

 

The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

Read in full below:

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Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

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USG Invokes Sovereign Immunity in Ex-Local Embassy Guard Case in Ireland

Posted: 12:30 am ET

Via The Irish Times:

A former US embassy security guard has been told he cannot take an employment appeals case over his dismissal as his former employer, the US government, has diplomatic immunity in Ireland.

John Greene had argued that he was unfairly dismissed from the security guard role in September 2013 following an investigation into what his superiors termed a “security breach” at the embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
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In hearings that touched on several Supreme Court rulings, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, counsel for the US government successfully argued that sovereign immunity applies due to the important nature of Mr Greene’s duties.

Related posts:

 

 

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Snapshot: State Department Workforce Composition By Employment Category – 2016

Posted: 12:13 am ET

Via state.gov:

The State Department says that it employs a workforce of over 80,000 employees. The figure below shows the composition of the 2016 workforce by employment category. Total number of agency employees excluding contractors: 74,721 (FS: 13,948 includes Generalist – 8,196; Specialist – 5,752; Civil Service at 11,037) and Locally Employed Staff at 49,736 (includes Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs)and Personal Services Agreements/Contracts). We have not been able to locate a good number for contractors.

In April 2016, there were 11,861 adult family members overseas, of which 29% or 3,436 FS family members were employed by the USG at missions overseas.

via state.gov

via state.gov

 

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Mr. Smith Writes to Washington, Goes to Bat For Local Staff in the Persian Gulf’s Unfair Labor Markets

Posted: 2:43 am ET
Updated: 10:17 am PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopun

Via AFSA:

William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer – Jefferson Smith, U.S. Embassy Kuwait

Jefferson Smith receives this year’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer for his commitment to combatting unfair labor practices and his push for compensation reform for locally employed (LE) staff at posts in the Persian Gulf.

While posted to Kuwait, Management Counselor Smith observed that the nine embassies and consulates in the Persian Gulf region are staffed almost exclusively by third-country nationals (TCNs) who did not enjoy the rights of citizens and earned wages and benefits so low that they could not support their families. U.S. Embassy Kuwait employs more than 200 TCN men and women from 27 different nationalities—and employs no Kuwaitis because the U.S. government does not pay enough to attract them.

Mr. Smith gathered data, framed his arguments and then brought his views to a regional management officers’ conference, where he found allies and organized a regionwide approach. He then wrote a detailed, thoughtful cable to Washington, signed by the six regional ambassadors, proposing that the department should define a new standard for compensating its LE staff at posts employing a majority of TCNs in unfair labor markets.

In short, Mr. Smith challenged the department to lead—not just follow—local practice in these markets. All of his preparation and action had an effect: The under secretary for management approved a Public Interest Determination (a policy exception) to create housing and education allowances for LE staff, and moved U.S. Embassy Kuwait to the top of the list for the next tranche of wage increases. The result was an average 22-percent salary increase in addition to the new allowances.

Mr. Smith’s success in winning a more just compensation package for the LE staff of U.S. Embassy Kuwait was an important milestone that will serve as a model as he and others continue to fight for a more equitable way to compensate employees under these conditions.

Mr. Smith has served in Kuwait since 2014. As a management-coned Foreign Service officer, Mr. Smith has had opportunities to serve in consular, economic, political and management functions in four regional bureaus and six overseas assignments, including Kingston, Dar es Salaam (twice), Yaoundé, Dublin and Kuwait.

The annual award is named after Ambassador William R. Rivkin (1919–1967) who served as ambassador to Luxembourg, Senegal, and Gambia in the 1960s.  He is the father of Charles Rivkin, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and the former U.S. Ambassador to France (2009-2013). Read A/S Rivkin’s Honoring Constructive Dissent: The William R. Rivkin Award on DipNote.

We should note that this is one of AFSA’s three dissent awards and is separate from the State Department “Dissent Channel.” The FAM precludes the use of the official Channel to address “non-policy issues (e.g., management or personnel issues that are not significantly related to substantive matters of policy).”

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Xulhaz Mannan, LGBT Editor and Local Employee at US Mission Dhaka Brutally Murdered in Bangladesh

Posted: 5:07 pm ET
Updated: 6:20 pm ET
Updated: 6:37 pm ET
Updated: 10:04 pm ET

 

According to media reports, Xulhaz Mannanan employee of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka (USAID) and the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first ever LGBT magazine launched in 2014 was killed in his apartment along with another LGBT activist, Tanay Fahim, in a latest of the brutal machete attacks targeting academics and writers. Local news says that the assailants posed as courier service staff.

Xulhaz’s colleagues regarded him with special affection. He first joined the U.S. Embassy as a Protocol Specialist, serving for eight years in that capacity before joining USAID last September. In his role as a Project Management Assistant in the Democracy and Governance office, he worked tirelessly to support organizations focused on broadening and deepening political understanding throughout Bangladesh. Unsurprisingly, he also devoted extra time to building a more open and welcoming workplace, serving as a founding member of the U.S. Embassy Diversity Committee.

The US Embassy in Dhaka released the following statement via FB from Ambassador Bernicat:

I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi this evening in Dhaka. Xulhaz was more than a colleague to those of us fortunate to work with him at the U.S. Embassy. He was a dear friend. Our prayers are with Xulhaz, the other victim, and those injured in the attack. We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders.

 

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Baloun v. Kerry: U.S. Equal Employment Protection Do Not Cover Foreign Employees of U.S. Embassies

Posted: 4:03 am ET

 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.  Discrimination types includes:

Last year, State/OIG did an inspection (PDF) of the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights, an office that reports directly to the secretary of state and is tasked with the following:

… charged with propagating fairness, equity, and inclusion throughout the Department’s workforce. S/OCR answers to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and is charged with ensuring a nondiscriminatory workplace environment, investigating Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints and harassment inquiries, and working with the Bureau of Human Resources to implement federally mandated requirements in the Department’s diversity and disability hiring process. S/OCR is answerable to the EEOC, Congress, and other executive branch agencies in reporting on the Department’s standing in complaint and diversity statistics and recruitment planning.

The report includes a section labeled: EEO Liaisons for Locally Employed Staff Overseas

S/OCR has stepped up efforts to improve counseling and training for locally employed (LE) staff overseas. Providing EEO counseling to LE employees complies with Department policy in 3 FAM 1514.2 (a) and (d) rather than a regulatory mandate and is not included in S/OCR’s external reporting requirements. Nevertheless, in 2013 S/OCR began tracking counseling for these employees; the initial intake is recorded in the EEO counselor SharePoint site. The Intake and Resolution Section is also in the process of revamping LE counselor training; for example, having post EEO counselors train the LE liaisons and improving written training materials for LE staff. S/OCR believes these efforts have increased awareness among LE staff members and led to an increase in the number of complaints from them, although these numbers are not available, since the section only recently began tracking them.

The most recent OIG inspection of the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (PDF) includes the following item on Equal Employment Opportunity:

The names and contact information of the EEO counselor and the EEO liaisons for the locally employed staff members were not publicized, as required by 3 FAM 1514.2a. OIG suggested that this information be added to mission bulletin boards. Also, OIG suggested EEO refresher training for the mission-wide locally employed staff and their EEO liaisons.

The OIG inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Japan (PDF) in 2015 include the following details:

In interviews, the OIG team learned that the embassy did not report three complaints of sexual harassment to the Office of Civil Rights as required. Although embassy officials had taken actions to address these complaints, they were unaware of this reporting requirement and told the OIG team they would report these allegations to the Office of Civil Rights. According to 3 FAM 1525. 2-1 c, supervisors and other responsible Department officials who observe, are informed of, or reasonably suspect incidents of possible sexual harassment must report such incidents immediately to the Office of Civil Rights, which will initiate or oversee a prompt investigation. Without adherence to this requirement, sexual harassment complaints could go unreported to the Department.
[…]
According to 13 FAM 312 c, EEO and diversity training is mandatory for all managers and supervisors, and all employees are strongly encouraged to participate in EEO and diversity awareness training or training containing an EEO and diversity module, on average, every 5 years. EEO and sexual harrassment complaints lower office morale and employee productivity. These compaints/cases are also time consuming and can be costly to settle.

These EEO and diversity trainings — do they include a part where non-U.S. citizen employees of U.S. embassies and agencies operating overseas are told they are not covered by EEO regulations?

So there are trainings and appointed EEOC liaisons but if a local employee file a case, post and the EEOC goes through the motion of investigating; and then sorry, non-U.S. citizens are not covered by these EEOC regulations? Isn’t this just a game of pretense? Below is an EEOC ruling extracted from publicly available court records:

Earlier this year, Dalibor Baloun, the former FSN of US Embassy Prague in this EEOC noncase filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Secretary Kerry in the District Court for the District of Columbia with the notion — as indicated by the EEOC letter under the “right to request counsel” — that he could ask the court for an appointment of an attorney and waiver of other court costs.

Federal civil rights statutes expressly permit aliens to bring claims of civil rights violations in federal court. And the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for the right of counsel in criminal prosecutions but it does not say anything about civil litigations. Has there ever been an instance when a U.S. court granted a a court appointed attorney for a foreign employee of a U.S. Government who is residing overseas? Or is that EEOC letter just template language?

We should note that while we do not have an exhaustive list of all discrimination claims filed against the State Department, we have only been aware of one case filed by a locally hired employee that prevailed in U.S. courts. That locally hired employee is also a U.S. citizen hired overseas.  See Miller v. Clinton: Amcit FSN takes State Dept to Court for Age Discrimination  and Miller v. Clinton: Court Says State Dept Not/Not Exempt from Age Discrimination Law.

 

Related items:

Ex-US Embassy London Employee Gets 4.9 Years For “Sextortion” Scheme

Posted: 4:03 am EDT

 

Last December, the Justice Department announced that the former State Department/US Embassy London employee, Michael C. Ford  pleaded guilty to perpetrating a widespread, international e-mail phishing, computer hacking and cyberstalking scheme against hundreds of victims in the United States and abroad.

In a court filing submitted to aid in the sentencing, the USG recommended a sentence of 96 months of incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release. It also notes the following:

The sheer number of phishing e-mails that Ford sent is astounding. For example, on one day alone, April 8, 2015, Ford sent phishing e-mails to approximately 800 unique e-mail addresses. On the same date, Ford then sent 180 follow-up e-mails to potential victims who had not yet responded to his original phishing e-mail, as well as approximately 15 e-mails to victims who had provided incorrect passwords. Considering Ford’s daily volume, repeated over the course of several months, the number of Ford’s potential phishing victims is staggering.
[…]
Ford’s conduct was relentless and strikingly callous. He harassed his victims on almost a daily basis. He was particularly motivated by their reactions of fear, anger, and defiance. He was unmoved by their pleas to leave them alone. He laughed in the face of their fear, and he escalated his threats when they threatened to involve the police. He showed no remorse and thrived on his power over his victims.

Ford’s conduct was persistent and compulsive. He sometimes spent the majority of his work day, at taxpayer expense, engaged in his criminal scheme. This speaks powerfully about Ford’s dedication to his crime. In addition, his conduct was incredibly brazen. He used his U.S. Embassy work computer (which was positioned in a common, shared work area) to commit his crimes and at one point, filed a complaint with his employer, requesting more privacy in his workspace.

Today, U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross sentenced the 36-year-old Michael C. Ford to serve four years and nine months (59 months) in prison followed by three years of supervised release.  The case is USA v. Michael C. Ford, Case No. 1:15-CR-319-ELR.

Related posts:

 

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Sherman Funk: This story sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true (Via ADST)

Posted: 12:17 am EDT

 

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal years 1986 and 1987 (P.L. 99-93) amended the IG Act to include the Department of State and the Foreign Service. The Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, (P.L. 99-399) required the establishment of an independent OIG at State by October 1, 1986. The OIG was established on August 27, 1986.  Sherman M. Funk was the State Department Inspector General from 1987–1994 . He served under four secretaries of state (Schultz, Baker, Eagleburger and Christopher).

Below is an excerpt from Mr. Funk’s oral history via ADST.

There’s a story which nobody believes that is absolutely true and people are still in jail as a result of it, the Japanese. This story sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true. When they built the new embassy in Tokyo, and a compound, the specifications called for two manholes on access points in the rear courtyard where the oil tank was buried. Nobody thought of asking why you needed two. And the embassy opened, and shortly after it opened the truck appeared, a big oil tank truck, guys wearing uniforms driving it. And the night before the security called in and said that they were getting oil, and they went through and opened up one of the manholes, put a hose down and they filled the tank. A couple days later another truck appeared in the morning, also a call to come through saying we were getting a delivery. Nobody thought of asking why deliveries so close. The truck came in, opened up the other manhole and put a thing down and it was true half of the oil had been pumped in a couple days before.

This went on for sixteen years, and in the sixteen years only one person, a young assistant GSO, ever inquired why we were buying so much oil. One person. And the admin counselor called in the senior FSN, the GSO type, and said make a study of why we’re spending so much money. The guy came back with the report that the weather is so volatile here, we have equipment which needs the oil. The person who did that report was the guy in charge of the scam. Toward the end one of the workers got disgruntled, that he wasn’t getting enough money on the scam, and went to the assistant security officer, our assistant regional officer, and said that, “You’re being robbed.” The assistant legal security officer went to the same FSN and asked him to look at it. The guy came back and said no problem. That went on for another year.

Now people who listen to that story say it’s not possible. Sixteen years we used enormous volumes of oil. In fact, we prosecuted. One of my lawyers and two of my investigators went out, we went to Tokyo, worked with the courts. It was hideously embarrassing for the Japanese by the way, and they were very tough on these people involved. We’re getting back most of the money, we’re suing the companies because they should have had controls to prevent that. But one of their biggest arguments, and if that were argued in the States, they would win, was you guys are so stupid why didn’t you guys know something was wrong. We just deliver for your requirements. To me, I find that so incredible, and it went on for sixteen damn years, but we’re getting millions of dollars back now. But we had to sue for it.

What kind of naiveté is it to ask somebody who would benefit from it? And if the thing was going on, he would certainly know what was going on. How much management moxie does it take? How much common sense does it take? Twice they went back to the same person who was the contact point in the embassy, who would make the telephone calls to have the deliveries come in the next morning. Incredible.

Read the full oral history interview here (PDF) conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on July 14, 1994.

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Syria COH Coordination Team: Now With Native Arabic Speakers at US Embassy Kuwait

Posted: 3:07 am EDT

 

We previously posted about the Syria Cessation of Hostilities (COH) Team reportedly run by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) (see Syria Cessation of Hostilities (COH) Hotline Fail: Ceasefire Violations in the Land of Pepsi (Updated)).

On March 7, US Embassy Damascus/FB posted an updated announcement noting the addition of native Arabic speakers at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and a third contact number to received calls with reports of incidents and possible violations.  The new announcement also says it encourage conveying reports via text options “as it promotes clarity and assist in our record keeping.”

 

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