US Mission Germany: LE Staff Age Discrimination Cases Fail at the EEOC Over 45-Day Time Limit

Below are two three recent cases at the EEOC where former LE staff at US Mission Germany alleged unlawful employment discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Both complainants were already retired when the complaints were filed at the Commission. In both cases, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s decision. In the first case, the complainant argues that the Commission should waive the 45-day time limit.  In the second case, the complainant’s case failed for failure to initiate EEO counseling within the 45-day time limit. In the third case, the complainant filed the case 15 years later, “well beyond the 45-day limitation period.”
EEOC Appeal No. 2021001196:
Complainant, a U.S. citizen, was hired by the Agency effective October 17, 2005, as a Secretary, Pay Plan 01, Grade 06 (PP-01-06). She was competitively promoted to Administrative Assistant Move Coordinator), PP-01-09 effective April 1, 2007, was reassigned to Administrative Assistant, PP-01-08 effective April 26, 2009, and retired on December 31, 2018. All these jobs were with the American Embassy Berlin in Berlin Germany, part of U.S. Mission Germany. Complainant worked as Locally Employed (LE) Staff, meaning staff who were legal permanent residents of Germany, including U.S. and non-U.S. citizens.

On August 24, 2020, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her based on age because throughout her employment she was ineligible, due to being hired after her 45th birthday, to participate in the Mission Germany Retirement Benefit Plan/Defined Benefit Plan (DBP) for LE Staff.
[…]
The Agency dismissed the EEO complaint because Complainant did not initiate EEO counseling within the 45-day time limit of when she reasonably should have suspected discrimination. It found as follows. Complainant should have reasonably suspected discrimination upon her retirement (December 31, 2018) when she learned that she did not qualify for retirement benefits, and again by February 26, 2020, when post leadership issued cable 20 STATE 21066 denying Complainant and similarly situated LE retirees retirement benefits. The Agency found that Complainant had constructive notice of the 45-day time limit because of numerous posted notices on the Agency’s internet site, its intranet site dedicated to employment information, and on Embassy Berlin’s intranet site. The Agency also dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for various reasons.

The instant appeal followed. On appeal, Complainant argues that when she was hired American Embassy Berlin was in the process of building a new embassy. She writes she was not located in one of official Embassy buildings and because her location did not have access to the Agency and Mission Germany intranet websites she did not have the means to learn of the 45 day time limit. Complainant writes that the above occurred when she worked for Overseas Building Operations (OBO) of the Embassy.

[…]
The record reflects Complainant stopped working in OBO when she was promoted on April 1, 2007, and she does not argue she was unaware of the 45-day time limit thereafter. Rather, Complainant argues that the Commission should waive the 45-day time limit because the Agency deliberately hindered those injured from becoming aware of the age discrimination and because of the gravity of its offense. Complainant argues that she only formed a reasonable suspicion of age discrimination after extensive consultation with experts and similarly situated LE Staff and retirees, and hence her EEO contact was timely. She also argues that her complaint states a claim.
[…]
Complainant argues that after she retired on December 31, 2018, she helped establish a Pension Sub-Committee to meet with management to discuss DBP age discrimination (meaning allow those excluded from DBP due to their age to retroactively join DBP), but on February 26, 2019, via cable, management declined to grandfather them into DBP. Based on this information, we  conclude that Complainant had a reasonable suspicion of discrimination years before she initiated EEO counseling on July 21, 2020. Accordingly, the FAD is AFFIRMED
EEOC Appeal No. 2021001243
Complainant, a U.S. citizen, was hired by the Agency starting on February 24, 1997, to a limited term position as a Commercial Representative at the American Consulate General, Office of the Foreign Commercial Service, in Dusseldorf, Germany. The term appointment allowed for the option of subsequent annual extensions. It appears the Agency annually renewed Complainant’s term employment until he retired on October 31, 2017. In July 2009, Complainant was reassigned from Dusseldorf to Munich, Germany, where he remained until his retirement. Throughout his career with the Agency’s U.S. Mission Germany, Complainant worked as Locally Employed (LE) Staff, meaning staff who were legal permanent residents of Germany.
On July 23, 2020, Complainant initiated EEO counseling and later filed a formal equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint dated August 26, 2020, alleging the Agency discriminated against him based on his age because he was ineligible, due to being hired after his 45th birthday, to participate in Part A of the Mission Germany Retirement Benefit Plan/Defined Benefit Plan (DBP) for LE Staff.
[..]
The Agency dismissed Complainant’s EEO complaint because he did not initiate EEO counseling within the 45-day time limit of when he reasonably should have suspected discrimination. The Agency found that, at the latest, Complainant should have reasonably
suspected discrimination when he retired on October 31, 2017, because he did not qualify for retirement benefits at that point. It further found that assuming Complainant did not reasonably suspect discrimination upon his retirement, he should have reasonably suspected discrimination when, on February 26, 2020, via cable (identified as 20 STATE 21066), Agency leadership denied the request by similarly situated former LE Staff, also hired after age 45, for retirement  benefits. The Agency found that Complainant knew or had constructive notice of the 45-day time limit because of posted notices on the Agency’s intranet and internet sites dedicated to employment information. The complaint file contains screen shots of the referenced notices.
[…]

The doctrine of laches is an equitable remedy under which an individual’s failure to pursue diligently his course of action could bar his claim. We find laches applies here. Complainant delayed almost three years after he retired to initiate EEO counseling. While the record may not show exactly when Complainant was notified of the time limit to initiate EEO counseling, we conclude that the record sufficiently supports a finding that he did not act with due diligence in starting his EEO case, justifying the application of the doctrine of laches. Accordingly, the FAD dismissing the complaint for untimely EEO counseling is AFFIRMED.
EEOC Appeal No. 2021001278 :
During the relevant period, Complainant worked as a Computer Management Specialist at the Agency’s US Embassy Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

On July 21, 2020, Complainant initiated EEO Counselor contact. Informal efforts to resolve his concerns were unsuccessful.

On August 27, 2020, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency subjected him to discrimination based on age when he was informed that he was not eligible for benefits under Mission Germany’s Retirement Benefit Plan, beginning the date of his employment as a locally employed staff member on October 17, 2015.


In its October 13, 2020 final decision, the Agency dismissed the formal complaint claim for untimely EEO Counselor contact, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(2).
Specifically, the Agency determined that Complainant initiated EEO Counselor contact on July 21, 2020, which the Agency found was more than forty-five days after the alleged discriminatory event occurred. In addition, the Agency argued that Complainant knew or should have known that retirement benefits were not part of his employment benefit package.
In support of its assertions, the Agency included a copy of Complainant’s offer letter and employment history that he signed on September 9, 2005, acknowledging receipt of the Foreign Service National (FSN) Handbook that explains retirement benefit eligibility.
[…]
The Agency noted further that the instant complaint raises issues of retirement benefits for Locally Employed Staff (LE) which arise under the Foreign Service Act (FSA). Complainant signed the LCP when he began his employment with Mission Germany and properly grieved the LCP provisions. The Agency found that, as a result, the Commission lacks jurisdiction to decide the allegations Complainant raised in his complaint.

Finally, the Agency found that the subject claim is a collateral attack on the Agency grievance proceeding. The Agency stated that Complainant should have raised his allegations through the Agency grievance proceeding, and not through the EEO complaint process.
[..]

Here, the Agency properly dismissed the formal complaint on the grounds of untimely EEO counselor contact. Complainant was notified in his employment contract in 2005 that he was not eligible for retirement benefits. However, Complainant did not initiate contact with an EEO

Counselor until July 21, 2020, 15 years later and well beyond the 45-day limitation period. We note that in his complaint, Complainant states he did not reasonably suspect discrimination until February 26, 2020, when Agency leadership issued a decision entitled 20 STATE 21066 denying retirement benefits to Complainant and other similarly situated retirees. Even counting from that date, Complainant’s July 21, 2020 initial EEO counselor contact was untimely made.
[..]
The Agency’s final decision dismissing the formal complaint for the reasons stated herein is AFFIRMED.
Not sure what “Agency grievance proceeding” the State Department is referencing here. Is there a grievance system for LE staff overseas, besides getting a hearing from the COM? The Foreign Service Grievance System (FSGB) applies to Foreign Service employees only.
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EEOC: Challenge to @StateDept’s Mandatory Retirement as Violation of the ADEA Fails

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

Via EEOC Appeal No. 2020000116 (PDF)
DECISION:

Complainant filed a timely appeal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission) from the Agency’s decision dated July 31, 2019, dismissing his complaint of unlawful employment discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.

BACKGROUND:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as an Information Systems Security Officer, FS-03, at the Agency’s facility in Brussels, Belgium.

On July 1, 2019, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency subjected him to age discrimination when he was not allowed to bid for assignments in the summer 2020 job cycle, when he will reach the Agency’s mandatory retirement age. Complainant also stated, in his formal complaint, that he was being involuntarily retired in January 2020, solely on account of his age.

The Agency dismissed the complaint, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1), for failure to state a claim, stating that the ADEA does not preclude mandatory retirement provisions, including the one set forth in the Foreign Service Act which covered Complainant’s position. The instant appeal followed.
[…]
We concur that the instant complaint, which in essence challenges the Agency’s mandatory retirement at age 65 as a violation of the ADEA, fails to state a claim. Since Complainant is challenging the validity of the mandatory retirement age, which was authorized by Congress as a statutory exception to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Commission finds that his complaint has been appropriately dismissed for failure to state a claim. See Brumbaugh v. Department of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A05531 (Mar. 29, 2001) (the mandatory retirement provisions of the Foreign Service Act must be given “full force and effect” and the ADEA cannot be read to prohibit their implementation, citing to Strawberry v. Department of State, No. 96-5221 (D.C. Cir. 1997. In commenting on Strawberry, the Commission observed that the court looked at both statutes and concluded that Congress knew what it was doing in keeping the mandatory retirement provisions in place even when it otherwise outlawed mandatory retirement for most employers under the ADEA).

Accordingly, the Agency’s final decision dismissing Complainant’s complaint is AFFIRMED.

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EEOC: National Origin & Age Discrimination Found When Agency Terminated Complainant’s Candidacy for a Position

 

Via EEOC: Leon B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182144 (Nov. 5, 2019).
National Origin & Age Discrimination Found When Agency Terminated Complainant’s Candidacy for a Position.
The Commission found that the Agency discriminated against Complainant when it terminated his candidacy for a Diplomatic Security Foreign Service Special Agent position because his score on an oral and written assessment was below the cut-off level. Agency officials averred that they asked all candidates the same questions and rated them according to pre-determined factors.  No one identified what the factors were, however, and Agency officials refused to provide information about the assessment questions and materials.  The EEO Investigator asked the Agency officials to provide the names of and pertinent information about the applicants who were found suitable to continue their candidacy for the position and information regarding the applicants whose candidacy was terminated, or not terminated, for the same reasons as Complainant’s candidacy.  The Agency stated only that it had assessed 726 candidates, that 272 passed the assessment, and that the candidates who passed as well as those who did not pass the assessment “ranged from all ages, races, and gender[s].”
Based on the Agency’s statement regarding the candidate pool, the Commission found that Complainant established prima facie cases of discrimination based on race/national origin and age.  The Commission further found that the Agency officials’ vague, conclusory statements about the assessment process did not explain why the Agency terminated Complainant’s candidacy.  The Agency provided no information about the pre-determined factors, the questions posed to the candidates, Complainant’s answers to the questions, how the reviewers scored Complainant’s answers, or the bases for the scores given to Complainant and the other candidates.  The Commission ordered the Agency to change Complainant’s assessment results to a passing score and to process his candidacy in the same manner that it processed the candidacies of other applicants who received passing scores.
Leon B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182144 (Nov. 5, 2019).

EEOC Sanctions USAID For Failing to Conduct Thorough Investigation in Disability and Age Discrimination Case

 

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

Commission Sanctioned Agency for Failing to Conduct Thorough Investigation & Found Evidence Would Have Established Discrimination. Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of disability and age when it terminated her contract employment. The Agency conceded, and the record supported a finding that Complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination, and the Commission found that the Agency articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the decision to terminate Complainant, that is its realignment of her office due to budgetary constraints. The Commission noted that while the EEO Investigator was thorough and pursued affidavits from both Complainant’s supervisor and the Assistant Administrator of her office, the Investigator only obtained a statement from the supervisor. The Assistant Administrator had moved to another agency and informed the Investigator, by email, that she would not cooperate with the investigation, did not supervise Complainant, and did not believe the questions posed by the Investigator were pertinent or applicable to her. The Commission stated that the Agency did not show good cause for its failure to engage in further efforts to obtain the Assistant Administrator’s affidavit. In addition, there was ample indication in the record that her testimony constituted highly relevant evidence, including a note by the EEO Counselor that the Assistant Administrator confirmed she made comments about Complainant’s health in the context of Complainant’s termination.

Therefore, the Commission concluded that the imposition of sanctions was warranted for the Agency’s failure to obtain testimony from the Assistant Administrator. While the Assistant Administrator moved to another federal agency, as a federal employee she retained the duty to respond to an EEO investigation, and the Agency provided no indication that it took any steps to obtain her cooperation. The Commission presumed that had the Assistant Administrator submitted an affidavit, she would have admitted she was directly involved in the decision to terminate Complainant’s contract, and that Complainant’s disability played a significant role in that decision. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to require Complainant’s contracting employer to reinstate her to her former position if possible or pay her one year of front pay if there was no position to which she could be reinstated; pay Complainant appropriate back pay; and investigate her claim for compensatory damages. Aileen C. v. Agency for Int’l Dev, EEOC Appeal No. 0120170399 (Sept. 18, 2018).

According to the EEOC, sanctions serve a dual purpose: 1) they aim to deter the underlying conduct of the non-complying party and prevent similar misconduct in the future, and 2) they are corrective and provide equitable remedies to the opposing party. Given these dual purposes, sanctions must be tailored to each situation by applying the least severe sanction necessary to respond to a party’s failure to show good cause for its actions and to equitably remedy the opposing party.

Several factors are reportedly considered in “tailoring” a sanction and determining if a particular sanction is warranted:
(1) the extent and nature of the non-compliance, and the justification presented by the non-complying party;
(2) the prejudicial effect of the non-compliance on the opposing party;
(3) the consequences resulting from the delay in justice; and
(4) the effect on the integrity of the EEO process.

The EEOC’s sanctions in this case  include reinstatement, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, EEO site visit, and coverage of attorney’s fees and costs.

#

 

Miller v. Clinton: Court Says State Dept Not/Not Exempt from Age Discrimination Law

We previously blogged about the Miller v. Clinton case in November 2010 (see Miller v. Clinton: Amcit FSN Takes State Dept to Court for Age Discrimination).

On November 4, 2010, the district court granted the State Department’s motion and dismissed the case with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), holding that the Secretary of State may exempt employees hired under the authority of § 2669(c) from the statutory protections of the ADEA.

The case eventually landed in the Court of Appeals and on August 7, 2012, in a 2-1 decision the lower court’s decision was reversed. The opinion for the Court is filed by Circuit Judge GARLAND; the dissenting opinion is filed by Circuit Judge KAVANAUGH

Excerpts:

GARLAND, Circuit Judge: There is no dispute that the State Department terminated the employment of John R. Miller, Jr., a United States citizen working abroad, solely because he turned sixty-five years old. Indeed, it is the position of the Department that it is free to terminate employees like Miller on account of their age. Moreover, the necessary consequence of the Department’s position is that it is also free from any statutory bar against terminating an employee like Miller solely on account of his disability or race or religion or sex.

After being dismissed on his sixty-fifth birthday, Miller brought suit alleging that his forced retirement violated the federal employment provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 633a. Accepting the State Department’s position, the district court dismissed Miller’s complaint on the ground that the statute under which Miller was hired, section 2(c) of the Basic Authorities Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2669(c), permits the Department to exempt Miller from the protections of the ADEA. We reverse, finding nothing in the Basic Authorities Act that abrogates the ADEA’s broad proscription against personnel actions that discriminate on the basis of age.

Miller is a U.S. citizen who was employed by the Department of State as a safety inspector at the U.S. embassy in Paris, France. He was hired in October 2003 as “locally employed staff” pursuant to a personal services agreement. Miller’s contract was negotiated and signed under the authority of section 2(c) of the Basic Authorities Act, which authorizes the Secretary of State to “employ individuals or organizations, by contract, for services abroad.” 22 U.S.C. § 2669(c); see U.S. Dep’t of State Personal Servs. Agreement (J.A. 23) (identifying 22 U.S.C. § 2669(c) as the exclusive “[s]tatutory authority for this agreement”). The proper construction of § 2669(c) is the central issue on this appeal.

Among other standard contractual provisions, Miller’s employment contract incorporates by reference “[a]ll provisions of the local compensation plan” for Foreign Service National employees in France. J.A. 23. One provision of the Local Compensation Plan (LCP) is a mandatory retirement clause. That clause follows the (apparently) prevailing French practice of mandating retirement at age sixty-five, and expressly states that “[a]ge 65 is the mandatory age limit for all employees under the LCP.” Foreign Serv. Nat’l Comp. Plan (J.A. 26).

In accordance with the mandatory retirement clause, Miller was advised by letter dated March 22, 2007 that he would be separated from his position due to age, effective July 23, 2007, his sixty-fifth birthday. There is no dispute among the parties that the sole reason for Miller’s termination was his age. The Department has not identified any concerns regarding Miller’s job performance or his ability to perform his duties. According to Miller’s supervisor, “[t]here was no other reason, to my knowledge, for Mr. Miller’s separation[;] it was strictly the mandatory age issue.” Kenan H. Hunter, EEO Investigative Aff. (J.A. 90).

In case you did not know this, the USG may discriminate against “aliens” employed outside the United States. More from the Miller opinion:

In 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to address “[n]ondiscrimination on account of age in Federal Government employment.” 29 U.S.C. § 633a. Section 633a broadly declares that “[a]ll personnel actions affecting employees or applicants for employment who are at least 40 years of age . . . shall be made free from any discrimination based on age.” Id. § 633a(a). The section includes an exception for “personnel actions with regard to aliens employed outside the limits of the United States,” id. (emphasis added), but contains no parallel exception for U.S. citizens so employed. Accordingly, it is undisputed that, as a general matter, the protections of § 633a extend extraterritorially to cover United States citizens employed by federal agencies abroad. See id. (stating that the statute is applicable to “executive agencies as defined in section 105 of Title 5”); see also 5 U.S.C. § 105 (“For purposes of this title, ‘Executive Agency’ means an Executive Department [or] a Government corporation.”).

Ah – but Miller is not an “alien” or an FSO who is subject to mandatory retirement:

[I]n several statutes Congress has clearly and affirmatively authorized the kind of mandatory retirement clause at issue here — but for specified classes of government employees that, again, do not include Miller. The statute that governs the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System is one example. It states that “any participant shall be retired from the Service at the end of the month in which the participant has reached age 65.” 22 U.S.C. § 4052(a)(1). In Strawberry v. Albright, 111 F.3d 943 (D.C. Cir. 1997), a State Department employee who participated in a pension system governed by § 4052(a)(1) brought suit contending that the system’s mandatory retirement provision violated the ADEA. Not surprisingly, this court had little difficulty concluding that “the ADEA’s general prohibition of age discrimination does not prohibit enforcement of the mandatory retirement provision[]” for participants in the system, because § 4052(a)(1) specifically mandates retirement at age sixty-five and was passed after the ADEA was made applicable to federal employees. Id. at 947. Section 4052(a)(1) does not apply to Miller, however, because he was never a member of the Foreign Service or a participant in its retirement system.

One of the arguments employed by USG lawyers is to insist that “even if the statutory language is ambiguous, “the Secretary’s longstanding interpretation . . . is entitled to deference” under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). DOS Br. 18. Under Chevron’s familiar second step, “if the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific” point at issue, a court must uphold the agency’s interpretation as long as it is reasonable.”

The Court did not buy that and notes that “the State Department acknowledged that the Secretary has never promulgated a written interpretation of § 2669(c) that asserts the section authorizes her to find the ADEA inapplicable to a contract like Miller’s.” It also points out that “there is no evidence that the current Secretary or any of her predecessors ever knew of the interpretation being advanced in their names. Instead, the Department asks us to rely upon the contract itself, which, the Department says, reflects the agency’s consistent practice of at least twenty years.”

But here is the most interesting part of the opinion:

At oral argument, Department counsel suggested that, if U.S. employment discrimination laws were applicable to U.S. citizens hired abroad under § 2669(c), State Department supervisors might prefer to hire foreign workers who are not protected by those statutes. Oral Arg. Recording 25:00-26:15. Our dissenting colleague proffers a similar explanation of his own. Dissent at 7-9. This line of reasoning does not appear anywhere in the legislative history.28 Nor is that surprising. It requires the assumption that State Department supervisors would prefer to hire employees against whom they are free to discriminate — and that in the absence of a “level” playing field permitting them to discriminate against everyone, those supervisors would decline to hire U.S. citizens.

The Court is shocked 😯 and calls out the callousness and hypocrisy of the institution whose mission is to “Shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”

Indeed, while it would be surprising for Congress to assume such callousness on the part of State Department officials, it is more than merely surprising to hear the Department make the same assumption about its own people. And that is doubly so in light of the repeated declarations that it “provides equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment in employment to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation, marital status, or sexual orientation.”
[…]
[W]e conclude that the legislative history’s vague references to “flexibility” and “competitive[ness]” are insufficient to indicate a congressional intent to permit the State Department to discriminate against U.S. citizens hired abroad.

And so the reversal:

The judgment of the district court, granting the State Department’s motion to dismiss Miller’s ADEA claim, is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Don’t say amen yet.  This is not the end of this, just wait …

Domani Spero