Must Read: Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits

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Via UNCLASSIFIED CABLE: 19 STATE 53266 Date/DTG: May 20, 2019 / 201659Z MAY 19 available via afsa.org:

1. Divorce can impact the division of Foreign Service retirement benefits. This message from the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement outlines the key rules that apply under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) and the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS).

2. Please note that the guidance outlined in this message does not apply to Civil Service employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reviews and administers civil service court-ordered benefits. For more information, Civil Service employees should download Pamphlet RI 84-1 titled “Court Ordered Benefits for Former Spouses” from OPM’s website (https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf) or view OPM’s presentation on Court Ordered Benefits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIaRfUtQB4).

Default Statutory Entitlement

3. The Foreign Service Act provides a statutory entitlement, also referred to as a default entitlement, when a former spouse is a qualified former spouse. A former spouse is a qualified former spouse if the following criteria are met: a) was married to a Foreign Service retirement plan participant for at least 10 years of his/her creditable federal service, b) at least 5 of those 10 years occurred while the participant was a member of the Foreign Service, and c) the former spouse must not have remarried prior to the commencement of any benefits and while under the age of 55 (age 60 for remarriages prior to November 8, 1984, for benefits under FSRDS). If the above criteria are met, and the former spouse is qualified, the statutory default entitlement applies regardless of the employee’s wishes, unless a spousal agreement or court order otherwise governs the disposition of benefits.

4. Under the default statutory entitlement, a qualified former spouse is entitled to a pro rata (marital) share of 50 percent of the employee’s annuity and a pro rata share of the maximum survivor benefit. The pro rata share is a fraction: the numerator is the total length of time of marriage during which the annuity was earned and the denominator is the retiree’s total creditable service. For example, if a couple was married for 14 years during the participant’s creditable service and the participant retired with 20 years of creditable service, then the pro rata share would be 14/20, or 70 percent. The former spouse would therefore receive 35 percent of the participant’s retired pay (which is half of the 70 percent pro rata share) while the participant would receive the remaining 65 percent.

Deviating From Statutory Entitlement

5. The Foreign Service default statutory entitlement may be altered through a valid court order or notarized spousal agreement. For example, a valid court order or spousal agreement can provide an express waiver of the former spouse’s statutory entitlement or provide that the former spouse’s entitlement be based on a different calculation method than the default calculation provided for by statute. Additionally, a valid court order or spousal agreement can award benefits even if the former spouse was not married to the retiree during his/her creditable Foreign Service or even if the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years. For a court order to be given effect for a former spouse, the order must be issued within two years of any divorce or annulment becoming final.

6. Any spousal agreement or court order that claims to alter or waive retirement benefits that are due under the Foreign Service Act to a former spouse must do so expressly in order for the alteration or waiver to be effective. To expressly waive or alter benefits under the Foreign Service Act, any spousal agreement or court order must specifically refer to Foreign Service retirement benefits. Merely mentioning generic retirement benefits or erroneously referring to retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is insufficient to constitute a valid waiver or alteration of benefits. For example, to constitute an express waiver or alteration, the parties may specify that the relevant language in the agreement or order pertains to survivor annuities or pensions under the Foreign Service Act, under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System if the annuitant is a FSRDS participant, or under the Foreign Service Pension System if the annuitant is a FSPS participant.

7. In cases where the Department determines that a spousal agreement or court order language is insufficient, the parties may negotiate a new agreement or, in certain circumstances, return to court to correct the problem. A notarized spousal agreement may change the amount of the pension paid to the former spouse at any time. A court order can adjust the amount of a survivor annuity to a former spouse provided it is issued before the death of an employee/annuitant.

Submit Your Divorce Documents For Review

8. Foreign Service members must submit all relevant divorce documentation to the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement (HR/RET) prior to retirement. HR/RET strongly encourages employees to do so prior to, or at the time of divorce, or no later than one year before retirement. In cases where years have passed since the divorce, it sometimes takes time to locate the former spouse. In other cases, state court orders may fail to meet federal standards or one party contends that the order has a different meaning than the Department’s interpretation. Thus, the parties sometimes must return to court to correct the problem. That process can take time.

9. To check in advance for such problems, Foreign Service employees should e-mail a certified copy of the entire court order and all attachments to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or e-mail that address asking for mailing instructions. HR/RET will review the documentation and provide the employee and their former spouse with a divorce determination letter addressing what, if any, retirement benefits a former spouse is entitled to.

Changes In Marital Status After Retirement

10. Foreign Service annuitants (retirees, their survivors, and former spouses) must report all changes in marital status (divorce, marriage/remarriage, or death of spouse) by notifying the HR Service Center and providing the relevant documentation.

11. Delays by annuitants in reporting a marriage/remarriage occurring after the participant’s retirement can permanently prevent a survivor election. A retiree who remarries after retirement has a limited period of time within which they may be eligible to make a survivor election for the new spouse. Under FSRDS, a retiree has only one year from the date of marriage/remarriage to elect a survivor annuity for a spouse acquired after retirement. For a FSPS retiree, there is a two-year deadline. When deciding whether to make a survivor election for a spouse acquired after retirement, it is important to consider that in order to remain eligible for FEHB benefits, a retiree’s surviving spouse must be eligible to receive a survivor annuity(whether or not the annuity would be payable in whole or in part to a former spouse).

For More Information

12. We understand this short message cannot address every conceivable situation. Therefore, additional questions may be sent to HRSC@state.gov.

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USCCR will accept public comments by an anonymous author in #sexualharassment inquiry

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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This is a follow-up post to USCCR extends comment period for sexual harassment inquiry to Monday, June 25th and U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo.

We asked the USCCR how federal employees can protect themselves from potential retaliation from their agencies, and still be able to contribute to the Commission’s inquiry on sexual harassment in government offices. We understand that some State Department employees may also be tied  up with NDAs that may prevent them from discussing some details (for instance sensitive or classified locations, etc). We were also interested in learning if the Commission is also looking into practices at other agencies, and if so, which agencies are also being looked at (besides NASA and the State Department).

Below is the response we received from USCCR:

The US Commission on Civil Rights will accept public comments by an anonymous author. In regard to the application of non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) the Commission cannot provide legal advice. We recommend that an individual who is a party to an NDA consult an attorney.

As far as what our investigation entails we are looking at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The investigation and subsequent report will also examine agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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USCCR extends comment period for sexual harassment inquiry to Monday, June 25th

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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This is a follow-up to our post: U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

The U.S. Commission by unanimous vote extended the public comment period for its sexual harassment in the federal workplaces investigation from June 10th to Monday, June 25th.

The Commission is seeking to learn more from the public about sexual harassment in the federal government, including:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in federal agencies,
  • the reporting process,
  • and new tools that can be used to address the issue.

The Commission will now accept written materials for consideration as we prepare our report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 25th, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425. Testimony from this briefing and public comments will inform our 2019 report to Congress, the President, and the American people regarding the state of sexual harassment in the federal government.

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@StateDept to start requiring Diversity Visa applicants valid, unexpired passports on electronic entry forms

 

On June 5, 2019, the State Department published on the Federal Register an interim final rule requiring alien petitioners for the Diversity Visa Program “to provide certain information from a valid, unexpired passport on the electronic entry form.”

Diversity Visa Program, DV 2016-2018: Number of Entries Received During Each Online Registration Period by Country of Chargeability. (Click on image to see the full pdf document)

Excerpt:

An estimated 14 million aliens register annually for the DV Program through an electronic entry form. The entry form collects information on the petitioner’s full name; date and place of birth; gender; native country, if different from place of birth; current mailing address; and location of the consular post where the diversity visa should be adjudicated, if the petitioner is selected through the DV lottery. The electronic entry form also collects information about the names, dates and places of birth for the petitioner’s spouse and children. The entry process is open to all aliens who are natives of “low-admission” countries without numerical limitation, defined as countries with fewer than 50,000 natives admitted to the United States during the most recent five-year period. After the close of the DV Program entry period, petitioners are selected through a randomized computer drawing (“selectees”) for consideration for one of the 50,000 available diversity visa numbers.

Section 204(a)(1)(I)(iii) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1154(a)(1)(I)(iii), vests the Secretary of State with authority to set by regulation the information and documentary evidence to support a petition for entry into the DV Program. The requirements are set out in 22 CFR 42.33.

With this rule, the Department is amending 22 CFR 42.33(b)(1) to require the petitioner to include on the electronic diversity visa entry form the unique serial or issuance number associated with the petitioner’s valid, unexpired passport; country or authority of passport issuance; and passport expiration date. These requirements will apply only to the principal petitioner and not derivatives listed on the entry form. These requirements apply unless the petitioner is either stateless, a national of a Communist-controlled country and unable to obtain a passport from the government of the Communist-controlled country, or the beneficiary of an individual waiver approved by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, consistent with the passport waivers for immigrant visa applicants provided for in 22 CFR 42.2(d), (e), and (g)(2). A petitioner who does not have a passport and is either stateless, is a national of a Communist-controlled country and unable to obtain a passport from the government of the Communist-controlled country, or has an individual waiver of the passport requirement from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State, must indicate that he or she falls into one of these three circumstances on the electronic entry form, instead of providing passport information. The requirements for information from a valid passport will not be waived under any other circumstances.

Mandatory Disqualification

The Department is also clarifying that failure to accurately include any information required by 22 CFR 42.33(b)(1) and (2) will result in mandatory disqualification of the petitioner for that fiscal year. The existing regulations require the petitioner to submit specific information, including, but not limited to: Name, date of birth, and place of birth for the principal petitioner and any relatives that may accompany the petitioner, if selected to apply for a diversity visa, as well as a digital photo. While these are currently requirements for the diversity visa entry form, existing regulations do not make clear the consequence for failure to provide the information. The revised regulation clarifies that failure to provide the required information, including a compliant photograph, will result in the disqualification of the entry, the petitioner, and derivatives from the DV Program for that fiscal year.

Why is the Department promulgating this rule?

The Department has historically encountered significant numbers of fraudulent entries for the DV Program each year, including entries submitted by criminal enterprises on behalf of individuals without their knowledge. Individuals or entities that submit unauthorized entries will often contact unwitting individuals whose identities were used on selected DV Program entries, inform them of the opportunity to apply for a diversity visa, and hold the entry information from the named petitioner in exchange for payment. Requiring that each entry form include a valid passport number at the time of the DV Program entry will make it more difficult for third parties to submit unauthorized entries, because third parties are less likely to have individuals’ passport numbers. Entries submitted by unauthorized third parties using a duplicative passport number will also be easily identified and automatically disqualified.

Click here to read the entire notice, or for information on where to send comments (accepted up to July 5, 2019).

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Snapshot: 3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse (in Representational, Charitable, or Social Activities)

 

“Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employees effectiveness on the job.”

Cite: 3 FAM 1217
(CT:PER-924;   09-21-2018)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only)

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Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

 

 

 

This is a follow-up post to a 2017 case concerning a State Department employee arrested for concealing extensive contacts with intelligence agents from China (see @StateDept OMS Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents). Last month, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. Sentencing is scheduled for for July 9, 2019.

Download Claiborne Plea Agreement

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Defendant Admitted Receiving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Benefits From Two Chinese Agents in Exchange for Internal State Department Documents
Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The plea took place before the Honorable Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts.  Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.  With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” said Assistant Director McNamara.  “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.  “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”

According to the plea documents, Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999.  She served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance.  Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years.  The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments.  Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, as stated in the plea documents, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.  That same agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.  She was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation.

Judge Moss scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2019.  Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., was ordered detained pending sentencing, but will self-surrender for said detention on June 5, 2019.  The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Thomas A. Gillice and investigated by John L. Hill, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Deputy Chief Julie A. Edelstein and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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Visa Refusals Under INA §212(a)(4) For “Public Charge” Spiked in FY2018

In an April 24, 2019 meeting between the the Department of State and  the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the group asked the State Department/s Consular Affairs bureau about the public charge refusals for visa applicants.

AILA: Based on data provided by the Department of State, it appears that there were four times as many §212(a)(4) refusals in 2018 as compared to 2017. However, approximately the same proportion of initial refusals were overcome in both years. Thus, it appears that the total number of applicants unable to overcome the initial refusal rose significantly in 2018. Please confirm: a. Aside from guidance provided in the FAM, has State issued new or additional guidance in 2018 concerning how consular officers should evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4)?

DOS: State hosted a series of webinars in 2018 and 2019 for consular officers reviewing the update to public charge eligibility, but other than the FAM update in 2018, there has been no additional formal guidance released on how to evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4). b.

Visa applicants need to satisfy this provision of law by demonstrating proof of adequate financial support in the United States. A visa refusal, or ineligibility, under section 212(a)(4) of the INA means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become a public charge in the United States. Public charge means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become primarily dependent on the U.S. government for your existence and financial support in the United States. Most immigrant visa applicants are required to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864, I-864A, I-864W, or I-864EZ, as applicable) from the U.S. sponsors who filed petitions for them. Some categories of immigrant visa applicants are not required to have Affidavits of Support. These are categories where no U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative filed a petition on your behalf, including most employment-based immigrants and diversity visa (DV) applicants.

Below are the number of visa refusals under the public charge grounds for FY2017 and FY2018:

click on image to see larger view

click on image to see larger view

 

 

In January 2018, the Department released an unclassified cable 18 STATE 942 January 4, 2018 with an Update to 9 FAM 302.8 Public Charge – INA 212(A)(4): Excerpt below with the relevant section.

3. INA 212(a)(4)(B) continues to provide that officers must take into account the totality of the alien’s circumstances at the time of visa application, including, at a minimum: (a) age, (b) health, (c) family status, (d) assets, resources, financial status, and (e) education and skills. As revised, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2) now includes detailed guidance to help officers assess these statutory factors when considering the totality of the applicant’s circumstances. For instance, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2)(f)(1)(b)(i) provides that an officer may consider “past or current receipt of public assistance of any type” in determining whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge, although officers must make a determination based on the present circumstances. Consequently, an applicant’s current receipt of public assistance may not raise significant future concerns, based on the totality of circumstances. For example, if the applicant just completed an educational degree and received a credible job offer, the applicant’s education and skills might provide a sufficient basis to find that the applicant overcomes any public charge ineligibility concerns in spite of current lack of assets. Alternatively, an applicant’s past receipt of public assistance could be very significant: for example, if the applicant’s spouse was the family’s primary income earner, but recently died. In this case, the applicant’s recent change in family status and likely change in financial status would weigh heavily in considering the totality of the circumstances.

4. Additionally, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(3), paragraph b, as revised provides that a “properly filed and sufficient, non-fraudulent” Affidavit of Support by itself may not satisfy the INA 212(a)(4) public charge requirement. The Affidavit of Support requirement at INA 213A and the public charge ineligibility at INA 212(a)(4) are distinct requirements which, where both are applicable, must both be satisfied. Accordingly, a properly filed and sufficient Affidavit of Support is essential, but does not preclude denial on public charge grounds. Officers should consider such affidavits as one factor in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances, and, may find the applicant is likely to become a public charge if, for example, the applicant is in very poor health, is unable to work, and is likely to incur significant medical costs. Similarly, if an applicant does not clearly overcome public charge concerns but could with a joint sponsor, then a consular officer’s evaluation of the likelihood the joint sponsor would voluntarily meet his or her financial obligations toward the applicant becomes vital to the adjudication. See 9 FAM 302.8- 2(B)(3)(b)(1)(b). 5. The updated guidance at 9 FAM 302.8 is effective immediately.

 

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EEOC: Sex Discrimination and Reprisal Found in USAID Case

Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1Fiscal Year 2019

Complainant must satisfy a three-part evidentiary scheme to prevail on a claim of disparate treatment sex and reprisal discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, Complainant must establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that s/he was subjected to an adverse employment action under circumstances that would support an inference of discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Furnco Constr. Co. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 576 (1978). Second, the burden is on the Agency to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory, reason for its actions. Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).  Third, should the Agency carry its burden, Complainant must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the Agency were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804; St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993).”

Sex Discrimination & Reprisal Found.

Complainant, a Senior Fellow, filed an EEO complaint alleging that she was discriminated against based on sex (pregnancy), and reprisal, when her supervisor (S1) made disparaging remarks about her pregnancy; subjected her to increased scrutiny and reporting requirements related to her telework; required her to apply leave retroactively to dates and times when S1 knew she worked; terminated her alternate work schedule (AWS); and did not extend her fellowship. The Commission found that Complainant established a prima facie case of sex and reprisal discrimination, and then demonstrated that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination. Regarding Complainant’s telework reports, the record showed that she submitted extensive narratives, and clearly met the reporting requirements. Additionally, emails between Complainant and S1 showed that he knew she was working more than eight hours a day, but still asked her to take leave, and did not approve all her work hours. S1 stated that he denied Complainant an AWS due to a lack of coverage. However, the record showed that Complainant was meeting her work requirements, and that she was responsive and accountable while using workplace flexibilities. The Commission found that the Agency did not articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not renewing her fellowship because S1’s assertion that Complainant had performance problems was not supported by any documentation. Further, Complainant had shown pretext because management’s responses were inconsistent. Accordingly, the Commission concluded that the preponderance of the evidence supported Complainant’s claim that she was subjected to sex and reprisal discrimination. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with a fellowship, or similar position, with an opportunity to extend on a yearly basis (similar to other fellows); conduct a supplemental investigation to determine compensatory damages; and provide training to the responsible management officials. Reita M. v. Agency for Int’l Dev., EEOC Appeal No. 0120161608 (July 17, 2018).

EEOC Finds @StateDept’s Denial of Reasonable Accommodation and Disability Discrimination Unlawful

 

Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1Fiscal Year 2019

The federal government, including the Agency, is charged with being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities. See 29 C.F.R.  1614.203(a). Inherent in this duty is an obligation to break down artificial barriers which preclude individuals with disabilities from participating on an equal footing in the work force. Accordingly, the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make various types of “”reasonable accommodation” for federal employees who have disabilities. This requirement helps ensure that such federal employees will be able to perform the essential functions of their positions, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. See Appendix to Part 1630 – Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Appendix to Part 1630″), at Section 1630.2(o): Reasonable Accommodation.” (via)

Via ssa.gov

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Disability Discrimination Found.

Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging, among other things, that the Agency denied him reasonable accommodation, and discriminated against him based on his disability when it rated him “unsuccessful” on his performance evaluation. On appeal, the Commission found that the Agency failed to show that providing any of Complainant’s many requested reasonable accommodations would cause an undue hardship. The Agency’s broad rejections did not reflect the specificity required of an individualized assessment, nor a consideration of the factors comprising an undue hardship. Further, the Commission noted its concern with the Agency’s lack of participation in the interactive process. The Agency not only rejected Complainant’s numerous suggestions, but it failed to suggest any alternatives and blamed Complainant for the alleged breakdown in the interactive process. The Commission further found that Complainant’s “unsuccessful” rating was also discriminatory. While the record contained evidence of Complainant’s ongoing performance problems throughout the year, including numerous emails from his supervisor, the Commission observed that some of the emails followed Complainant’s requests for accommodation. Moreover, the major life activities that were impacted by Complainant’s PTSD, for which he was seeking a reasonable accommodation, were the same skills identified by management as needing improvement (i.e. focus, concentration, and avoiding distractions). Among other things, the Agency was ordered to immediately take all steps necessary in accordance with Commission regulations to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation; to rescind and expunge the unsuccessful rating; and to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s finding that Complainant failed to prove his claim of harassment. Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160352 (Feb. 22, 2018).

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Reprisal Discrimination Found.

Complainant, who had a mixed connective tissue disease, alleged she was denied a reasonable accommodation, and subjected to reprisal when the Agency included certain elements in her work commitments. Complainant requested to telework an additional day each week due to her extended commute and per her doctor’s recommendation. However, Complainant was placed on a new team with “face-to-face” and “physically available” commitments. On appeal, the Commission found that Complainant could perform essential function of her job with a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting. Complainant identified a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting two days a week and fully complied with Agency procedures. Rather than provide the requested accommodation, however, the Agency denied Complainant’s request, and only months later granted situational telework. The Commission found that this was ineffective, because Complainant’s condition merited consistent telework to address her symptoms and to prevent exacerbation of her condition. While Agency managers indicated that there was not sufficient work for Complainant to do while teleworking, no basis was shown for this assertion. The Commission cited significant issues with the manner in which the Agency engaged in the interactive process, including continuing to require further medical documentation despite the fact that the Agency already had the information in its possession. The Commission concluded that the Agency did not make a good faith effort to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation. The Commission also found that Complainant was subjected to reprisal when her work commitments were revised to include terms like “face to face” and “physically available.” The Commission noted the close temporal proximity between Complainant’s request for reasonable accommodation and the change in her work commitments, and stated that Complainant was the only employee impacted by the reassignment whose new commitments evinced a clear disapproval of telework. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the option of teleworking two days per week if she still occupied her position or a similar position, investigate Complainant’s claim for damages, and provide appropriate training for the responsible management officials. Alejandrina L. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120152145 (Nov. 16, 2017).

 

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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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