U.S. Embassy’s Nurse Nightmare Not Subjected to Discrimination, EEOC Affirms

Posted: 1:24 am ET
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Via eeoc.gov:

This EEOC case involves an embassy nurse who filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in 2013. Two things are striking about this case: 1) there was an incident that according to the EEOC decision involved the Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku; and 2) an incident where the Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. On March 2017, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s  decision that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment.

BACKGROUND

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Locally Employed Staff (LES), Registered Nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. On October 1, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the bases of national origin (Azerbaijani), sex (male), religion (Muslim), and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

(1) On May 24, 2013, he was issued a Letter of Reprimand;

(2) His EPR reporting period was extended beyond the one-year calendar cycle, contrary to normal practice;

(3) On September 10, 2013, his position was terminated; and

(4) He was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited
to isolation from co-workers, threats, and demeaning and inappropriate comments.

After the investigation, the Agency provided Complainant with a copy of the report of investigation and notice of his right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge. When Complainant did not request a hearing within the time frame provided, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). The Agency found that, assuming Complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination and reprisal with respect to all his bases, management articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions.

Regarding issue 1, Complainant was issued a Letter of Reprimand because in early May 2013 management was notified by their contacts at the Anti-Plague Section (APS) of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Health that Complainant had called them, yelled at their employee who had answered the call and when the employee refused to identify himself, Complainant called the Ministry of Health wherein he stated his name and indicated that he was calling from the American Embassy. He then proceeded to complain about the APS. Management indicated that this event damaged their relationship with the Ministry of Health. The Human Resources Officer indicated that she had to apologize and promise that Complainant would be re-trained on telephone etiquette.

Regarding issue number 2, the Agency explained that Complainant’s reporting period was extended beyond the one-year cycle because he had been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in November 2012, to address several issues, e.g., exceeding the legal scope of his nursing license. Shortly after he was placed on the PIP, Complainant took an extended period of leave beginning on November 29, 2012 and ending January 7, 2013. Because Complainant had been off work for more than eight weeks of the 120-day PIP period, the decision was made to extend the PIP for an additional 60 days. The Human Resources Officer advised that the 60-day extension period began on March 23, 2013 and concluded on May 24, 2013.

With respect to issue 3, Complainant’s September 10, 2013, termination. Complainant argued that his termination was due to complaints he made about unfair treatment and a hostile work environment. Management explained that Complainant’s termination was due to three instances of misconduct. The first incident involved the telephone call that was described in issue 1. The second incident involved Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku. The third incident occurred when Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. Complainant’s supervisor determined that he was “us[ing] [his] position to bully other colleagues when [he was] angry.” Complainant’s supervisor maintained that Complainant was terminated because, among other reasons, she needed to protect the other employees from his abusive and erratic behavior. The supervisor felt that to allow Complainant to continue working as a caregiver when people were afraid of him was not prudent or reasonable, and that his actions reflected badly on the U.S. Government.

Finally, with regard to issue 4, Complainant alleged that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, when: he complained that he found Halloween decorations offensive; an employee from another organization “made a few remarks about his beard,” including that it made him look “like one of [the]bad guys;” written “Workplace Conduct Expectations,” were issued because of him; his supervisor claimed that in the Azerbaijani culture, girls get married at around 13 years of age and Complainant found this to be a stereotype that he found offensive; and he had a conversation with a coworker where he believed the coworker was insinuating that people living in Azerbaijan were not able to seek their rights.

Complainant maintained that he went to outside officials because he could not resolve his problems with management since they were harassing him. He maintained that the alleged harassment affected him because it made him “emotionally less stable, depressed and easier irritated.” He also alleged that he experienced medical problems and started taking medication due to the alleged harassment.

Management maintained, among other things, that Complainant believed that policies were being applied to him and were personal attacks against him. Management indicated, however, that Complainant was not subjected to harassment. Management explained that after Complainant indicated that he was uncomfortable with the Halloween decorations they were taken down. Further, the comments made about his beard were made from an employee from another agency and there was no evidence that the comment was made in a hostile manner. Management indicated that the “Workplace Conduct Expectations” did not just apply to Complainant. Regarding Complainant’s claim that his supervisor commented that Azerbaijani girls as young as 13 years were married, she indicated that she had been invited to give a talk to young women in the villages about nutrition and health. In doing research in advance of her speech, she had asked Complainant what types of situations young girls faced (e.g., HIV, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases), at which time Complainant told her that girls as young as 13 years old were often married. She emphasized Complainant never told her he believed he was being subjected to a hostile work environment.

Management indicated that Complainant was not subjected to harassment, as the issues claimed were not severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

The decision concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination, reprisal, and/or harassment as alleged.
[…]
ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we find that even if we assume arguendo that Complainant established a prima facie case of religion, sex, and national origin, discrimination and reprisal, the Agency articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, as listed above. We find that Complainant has provided no evidence which suggests that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination or that discriminatory animus was involved in this matter. The record clearly showed that Complainant had a history of inappropriate and inflammatory behavior in the workplace. The Commission has long held that the Agency has broad discretion regarding its hiring and firing practices unless discrimination is shown. Accordingly, we find that discrimination has not been shown in this case. We also find that Complainant did not establish that he had been subjected to unlawful harassment in this case because the purported conduct, assuming it occurred as alleged, was neither severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment is AFFIRMED.

The full decision is available to read here.

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@StateDept Appoints Andrew Schofer as U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group #NagornoKarabakh

Posted: 12:06 am  ET
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On August 28, the State Department announced the appointment of career diplomat Andrew Schofer to be the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The United States is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Andrew Schofer as the next U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. Mr. Schofer brings extensive experience in Europe and International Organizations to the position, and most recently served as Chargé d’ Affaires, a.i. for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE). From August 2015 until January 2017, he served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at UNVIE. From August 2014 to August 2015, he served as the Counselor for IAEA Affairs at UNVIE. Prior to his assignments in Vienna, Mr. Schofer served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus from 2011 to 2014, and has also worked overseas at the U.S. Embassies in Kuwait City, Kuwait; Manama, Bahrain; and Moscow, Russia. Mr. Schofer’s Washington assignments included postings on the Iraq Desk in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, where he was primarily responsible for the Middle East and Counterterrorism portfolios.

The United States remains firmly committed to the Minsk Group Process and helping the sides reach a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As expressed in the June 19 and July 6 statements, the United States supports a just settlement that must be based on international law, which includes the Helsinki Final Act; in particular, the principles of non-use of force, territorial integrity, and self-determination. Andrew Schofer looks forward to helping the sides achieve this goal.

We have informed the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan of Andrew Schofer’s appointment. Andrew Schofer will assume his new position effective immediately.

 

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OSCE Minsk Group: James Warlick Steps Down, Richard Hoagland Assumes Co-Chair Position

Posted: 9:53 pm PT
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The US embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan announced that Ambassador James Warlick, Co-Chair for the Minsk Group is stepping down effective December 31.  Ambassador Richard Hoagland will assume the position on an interim basis starting in January 2017.

Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland will assume the position of U.S. Co-Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group on an interim basis starting in January 2017. He replaces Ambassador James B. Warlick, who will step down on December 31.

Ambassador Hoagland brings over 30 years of diplomatic experience to the position. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan from 2003 to 2006, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan from 2008 to 2011, and as Deputy Ambassador to Pakistan from 2011 to 2013. Ambassador Hoagland most recently led U.S.-Russian military coordination for the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria and served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the State Department in Washington. Prior to these assignments, Ambassador Hoagland led the Office of Caucasus and Central Asian Affairs in the Bureau of Europe and Eurasian Affairs and was Press Spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Ambassador Hoagland’s extensive diplomatic experience will be critical as the United States works with the sides toward a lasting and peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The United States continues to call on the parties to maintain their commitment to the ceasefire and to implement agreements reached at the Vienna and St. Petersburg summits, and urges a return to negotiations on a settlement, which would benefit all sides.

The permanent replacement for Ambassador Warlick will be announced at a future date.

Meanwhile — things are heating up again over there:

U.S. Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan Restrict USG Travel to #NagornoKarabakh and Surrounding Territories

Posted: 1:04 am ET
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U.S. Embassy Baku “strongly advises private U.S. citizens to avoid travel to NK and the Embassy continues to prohibit the travel of U.S. government personnel to NK.  Consular services are not available to U.S. citizens in NK or the occupied territories surrounding it.  U.S. citizens are also reminded that travel across the Azerbaijan-Armenia international border is not possible due to ongoing hostilities.  Travelers should remain clear of the border areas and comply with Azerbaijani checkpoints set up to keep travelers from hazardous areas.”

Excerpt below from US Embassy Yerevan’s Security Message:

The Embassy is aware of reports that indicate a serious escalation in violence along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region and occupied territories, which include reports of civilian casualties.  The U.S. Embassy continues to prohibit the travel of U.S. government personnel to NK.  The U.S. Embassy also strongly advises private U.S. citizens to avoid travel to NK. U.S. consular services remain unavailable to U.S. citizens in NK and the surrounding territories.

The security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province continues to remain tense as well. Travel by U.S. government personnel to this border area is restricted. Villages and their connecting border roads in this area that are affected by these restrictions include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan. The Embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.

Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security

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Senate Confirmations: Jess Baily, Robert Cekuta, Margaret Uyehara, Richard Mills Jr., Frank Rose and More

— Domani Spero
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The following nominees for the State Department were confirmed on December 16, 2014:

  • PN1840 *      Macedonia
    Jess Lippincott Baily, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Republic of Macedonia.
  • PN1842 *      Azerbaijan
    Robert Francis Cekuta, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service,  Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan.
  • PN1847 *      Montenegro
    Margaret Ann Uyehara, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Montenegro.
  • PN1852 *      Armenia
    Richard M. Mills, Jr., of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia.
  • PN1099 *      State  Department (Verification and Compliance).
    Frank A. Rose, of Massachusetts, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Verification and Compliance).

The U.S. Senate also confirmed the nominations of Paige Eve Alexander, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID, and Jonathan Nicholas Stivers, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Administrator of USAID. It also confirmed Karen Kornbluh, of New York, to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for a term expiring August 13, 2016.

On December 15, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominees:

PN1377-3      FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for Sharon Lee Cromer, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 30, 2014.

PN1567        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Michael A. Lally, and ending John E. Simmons, which 4 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1568        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Andrew J. Billard, and ending Brenda Vanhorn, which 11 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on April 10, 2014.

PN1569        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nominations beginning Melinda Masonis, and ending Jeffrey R. Zihlman, which 456 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record| on April 10, 2014.

PN2137        FOREIGN SERVICE| Nomination for James D. Lindley, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 13, 2014.

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U.S. Embassies Baku and Yerevan Restricts USG Personnel Travel to Armenian-Azerbaijani Border

— Domani Spero
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Over the weekend, the US embassies in Baku and Yerevan issued emergency messages to the respective U.S. citizens in their host countries alerting them of the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is now restricted. US Embassy Yerevan also notes the increased tensions along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

US Embassy Yerevan, Armenia |August 2, 2014 via

Due to increased tension in the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan advises U.S. citizens to avoid travel to this border area.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is restricted.  Villages and their connecting border roads in this area include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan.  The embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.  

Tensions have also increased along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Consular services continue to be unavailable to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.

US Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan | August 2, 2014

Due to recent escalation in hostilities at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the U.S. Embassy in Baku advises U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border near the line of contact.  Consular services are no longer available to U.S. citizens in that area.  U.S. government personnel travel to the area is restricted for security reasons.

Note that Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar who was appointed to Azerbaijan in 2012 has recently announced his departure (pdf) from post after a two-year tenure. Prior to his appointment to Baku, he was the Secretary of State’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.

A related note — last month, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group expressed their serious concern about the increase in tensions and violence, including the targeted killings of civilians, along the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Co-Chairs urged the parties “to commit themselves to avoiding casualties and rejected the deliberate targeting of villages and the civilian population. They called on the Foreign Ministers to defuse tensions and adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.”  Over the weekend,  the Co-Chairs expressed their deep concern about the intense upsurge in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenian-Azerbaijani border that resulted in numerous casualties reported in recent days. They released the following statement:

The Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group said that they were deeply concerned about the fact that a clearly marked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vehicle came under fire while assisting the local population on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on a humanitarian mission. They strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and shooting at representatives of international organizations and reminded the parties of their obligations under Geneva Conventions.

They appealed to the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to take immediate action to defuse tensions and respect the ceasefire agreement. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace, the Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group emphasized. They also urged the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume as soon as possible negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict, being the only way to bring peace and genuine reconciliation to the peoples of the region.

 

You might remember that the Minsk Group came out of the OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994 tasked with convening a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Twenty years on and they’re still at it. The Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group are Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation; Pierre Andrieu of France; and James Warlick of the United States.

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Former Ambassador Matt Bryza: Fears and Frustrations on Embassy Security

Matt Bryza served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan from 2011-12 and as a deputy assistant secretary of state from 2005-09. He is now director of the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, Estonia and resides in Istanbul. Below is an excerpt from his December 3 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

I was appalled to learn weeks later that midlevel bureaucrats in Washington had implemented the cutback for Baku. My immediate and angry response got the capability restored. But for approximately two weeks, our embassy personnel—and all their family members—were left unnecessarily vulnerable because of budget decisions taken deep within the bureaucracy and against the assessment of the U.S. president’s personal representative in Azerbaijan, his ambassador.

I saw a similar lack of urgency when I returned to Washington. As I thanked diplomatic security officials for restoring the key capability that had been cut without my approval, I expected them to acknowledge that their subordinates had made a mistake. I also expected them to emphasize the need to do anything required to protect an embassy facing a serious terror threat. Instead I sensed reluctance—bred apparently by budgetary pressures, as fortress embassies like those in Baghdad and Kabul swallowed the lion’s share of the State Department’s diplomatic-security budget.

This budgetary stinginess is dangerous and self-defeating for U.S. diplomats. And it contrasts starkly with what I witnessed in a 2001 episode, when the State Department mounted an all-out campaign to beef up information security after the disappearance of a single laptop computer from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It is ridiculous that the State Department can find financial resources to protect classified data but not to protect the people who produce that information.

Continue reading, My Experience with Lax Embassy Security.

If link above does not work, click here (H/T to James Schumaker).

– DS