U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

 

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine 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 briefing also examined agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Commissioners heard from current and former government officials, academic and legal experts, advocates, and individuals who have experienced harassment.

Below is the video of the event. The State Department portion starts at the 2 hour mark. After listening to the State Department representative OCR’s Gregory Smith presentation in this hearing, we’re now actually curious about the kind of training he is talking about. It almost sound as if he’s waving the State Department training as a magic wand.  And after everything he said during the hearing, we are no closer in understanding what specifically is involved in their sexual harassment training.

Also, apparently, according to the State Department rep, they “strongly enforced” steps against people taking any type of retaliation but … admitted under questioning by the USCCR that “no one has been  fired” for retaliation (3:07 mark). Well, now …

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and a former State Department employee also spoke at this hearing as well as Stephen T. Shih, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity.  Both were impressive.  This is worth your time, and don’t miss the Q&A at the end.

Morning Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0GjPYRAsHQ . (includes State, NASA Reps)
Afternoon Session: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOZqWFIimoQ (includes CRS rep, NSF)
Public Comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgEFjUr3gHE . (includes USDOJ, State FSO)

The Commission says it routinely seeks public comments on the substance of its briefings. The public comment period is 30 days following the date of the hearing or briefing, unless provided otherwise.  Since the public briefing: “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” occurred on May 9, the  Commission will accept written materials until June 10 for consideration as they prepare their report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 10, 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.

We understand that the USCCR has asked employees (and the public) for information about:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in State and other agencies
  • the reporting process, and
  • new tools that can be used to address the issue
  • prevention of harassment
  • suggestions how to increase enforcement of existing regulations against harassment
USCCR said during the public comment portion that interested parties may submit materials for the Commission’s consideration, including anonymous submission (mark 13.14). Those who are submitting comments with their names attached may want to inquire about privacy/confidentiality for the reporting individual and material as the USCCR will be releasing a public report at some point. An employee  speaking on background notes that individuals who signed NDAs with State may also wish to consult with  a lawyer before writing to the USCCR. We’re not equipped to give legal advice and we think it’s prudent to consult with a lawyer on the limitations on what is shareable to USCCR given the uniqueness of each sexual harassment case.

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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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EEOC Damages Increased in Two @StateDept Cases

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

Commission Increased Award of Compensatory Damages to $50,000. The Commission previously determined that Complainant was discriminated against when the Agency failed to grant him a medical clearance based on its “worldwide availability” requirement. Following a supplemental investigation, the Agency awarded Complainant $5,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages noting that Complainant did not provide any medical evidence to support his claim. The Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal. Complainant stated that he became despondent, depressed, and reclusive because of the Agency’s discriminatory actions. Complainant experienced sleeplessness, crying spells, weight loss, anger, and humiliation. Complainant’s husband and friends submitted statements supporting his claim. The Commission determined that an award of $50,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages was more appropriate given the nature, severity and duration of the distress Complainant experienced as a direct result of the discrimination. Harvey D. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120171079 (Aug. 23, 2018).

Commission Increased Award of Non-Pecuniary Damages to $50,000. The Commission previously found that Complainant was subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor and ordered the Agency, among other things, to investigate Complainant’s claim for damages. The Agency awarded Complainant $20,000 in non-pecuniary damages, and the Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal. The Commission noted that, more likely than not, the sexual harassment was not the only factor that caused Complainant’s depression and anxiety. Complainant’s brother was executed in the Middle East, and Complainant also noted that her co-workers questioned her reputation because of the way she dressed. Nevertheless, the Commission found that the sexual harassment was a significant reason for the ridicule Complainant experienced, as well as her depression, poor self-esteem, irritability, anger, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, weight gain, and thoughts of suicide. The Commission noted that, seven months after the harassment ceased Complainant was able to form a romantic relationship, and she continued working at the Agency. Considering all of these factors, the Commission concluded that Complainant was entitled to an award of $50,000 in non-pecuniary damages. The Commission concurred with the Agency that Complainant failed to prove her claim for pecuniary damages. Blanca B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120171031 (Aug. 16, 2018).

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@StateDept’s Mandatory Harassment Training Overview (Video)

Posted: 3:17 am ET

 

Below is an unlisted video uploaded on February 2, 2018 by the “DMO Team” (?) that talks about the Mandatory Harassment Training ordered by Secretary Tillerson at the State Department. The presenter is Pamela Britton, an Attorney-Adviser from the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) at the State Department.

Around the 22 minute mark, the presenter talks about the reporting trends on harassment – saying that it has increased dramatically over the past four years FY2014 (235), FY2015 (320), FY2016 (365), FY2017 (483) but also notes that S/OCR “does not believe that the number of reports are equivalent to the number of actual behavior increasing” or that there’s “an uptick in poor behavior.”  They’re tying the increase in reporting “to the fact that people are now more informed of what to do, how to report, and what should be reported.” Supervisors are reportedly now better informed of their mandatory reporting requirement. Also that there is less tolerance for behavior that may have been tolerated 20 years ago. One more thing to note. Majority of reports are reportedly from overseas, and a significant number of alleged harassers are at the GS-14/FS-02 and higher ranking employees.

This video also cites two EEOC cases from DHS and the U.S. Navy. Whoever put this video together somehow forgot the sexual harassment case at FSI that S/OCR determined was not a sexual harassment case, but where the EEOC eventually found the State Department liable: @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case). And here’s another one: Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

 

According to the description posted with this video, on January 12, 2018, Secretary Tillerson mandated all American direct-hire employees receive harassment awareness training within 90 days (by April 12). The Bureau of Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) have made the following video available to ensure that all employees can comply. To ensure accountability with this requirement, all Assistant Secretaries, Chiefs of Mission, Charges, and Principal Officers must certify that all American, direct-hire employees under their supervision have received the training, via memo for domestic employees and front-channel cable for employees stationed abroad. In addition, the Foreign Service Institute, in coordination with S/OCR and HR, will reportedly develop an online harassment awareness-training course, which will be available later in 2018. All locally employed staff, personal services contractors and contractors will be held accountable for completing this on-line training by December 31, 2018.

The video posted says that for questions, please email SOCR_Direct@state.gov. If you would like to report an instance of harassment, please use the reporting link http://socr.state.sbu/OCR/Default.asp…. (links to Intranet site). If you do not have intranet access, folks may send an email to the aforementioned address or call 202-647-9295.

With regards to the harassment training, note that the EEOC in 2016 put out a Report of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (June 2016), which find that much of the harassment training done over the last 30 years has been ineffective in preventing harassment. See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report.cfm,

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EEOC Awards $60K For USNATO Brussels’ Failure to “Reasonably Accommodate” @StateDept Employee

Posted: 2:36 am ET

 

Via eeoc.gov/vol 1/FY18:

Commission Increased Award of Damages to $60,000. The Commission previously affirmed the Agency’s finding that it failed to reasonably accommodate Complainant. Following an investigation of Complainant’s claim for damages, the Agency awarded Complainant $10,500 in non-pecuniary damages. On appeal, the Commission affirmed the Agency’s decision not to award pecuniary damages, finding insufficient documentary proof to support such an award. The Commission, however, increased the award of non-pecuniary damages to $60,000. The Agency conceded that Complainant established a nexus between the harm he sustained and the discrimination. The record evidence confirmed that over a three-year period, Complainant experienced an exacerbation of his pre-existing conditions caused by stress created by the Agency’s discriminatory actions. Complainant stated that he experienced anxiety, irritability, insomnia and loss of consortium, and indicated that he did not go out socially. He also noted that he experienced headaches, and night sweats, and was forced to increase his medication when the Agency refused to accommodate him. The evidence supported Complainant’s assertion that his condition had stabilized prior to the discrimination, and the Agency was liable for the worsening of Complainant’s condition. Irvin W. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120141773 (Oct. 28, 2016).

Here is a quick summary of the case:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as an Information Management Specialist at the Agency’s U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium.  On September 11, 2009, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the basis of disability (Sjogrens Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Anxiety) when the Agency failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation of his disability. After an investigation, Complainant requested the Agency issued a final decision.  In its decision, the Agency found Complainant established he was subjected to discrimination when he was denied an accommodation.  As relief, the Agency ordered that Complainant be provided with a reasonable accommodation. On July 14, 2011, Complainant appealed the decision, and we affirmed the Agency’s finding on liability, and remanded the matter to the Agency so that it could conduct a supplementary investigation into Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages.  After conducting an investigation, the Agency issued its decision on March 12, 2014 awarding Complainant $10,500.00 in non-pecuniary damages. Specifically, the Agency found that Complainant’s pre-existing condition was largely the cause of Complainant’s physical and emotional distress during this time, and that the amount awarded was meant to compensate Complainant for the worsening of that condition.  The Agency disagreed with Complainant’s claim that his condition had stabilized by the time he arrived in Brussels, as evidence revealed he was still on a large dosage of steroids in July 2008, weeks before he began working.  Although Complainant alleged that he suffered from a loss of bone density (Osteopenia) as a result of his long term steroid use, the Agency determined that there was insufficient evidence that this was as a result of the discrimination.  Furthermore, although Complainant suffered emotional distress related to the discrimination, such distress occurred prior to his request for reasonable accommodation, which the Agency could not be held liable for.  In sum, the Agency concluded that Complainant’s condition was inherently unpredictable, and accordingly, his symptoms were unrelated to the discrimination itself.  Accordingly, the Agency concluded that $10,500.00 was an appropriate amount to compensate Complainant for the emotional distress he suffered.  The Agency declined to award any pecuniary damages in response to Complainant’s request.  This appeal followed.
[…]
Based upon the evidence provided by Complainant, we find the Agency’s award of $10,500.00 to be inadequate to remedy the harm caused by the Agency.  The Commission notes that record evidence confirmed that over a three year period, Complainant experienced an exacerbation of his pre-existing conditions for which he sought treatment caused by the stress created by the Agency’s discriminatory actions.  Complainant asserts that he suffered from anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and loss of consortium.  He maintains he did not go out socially, and suffered from headaches, night sweats and loss of bone density.  Most notably, he states he had tapered down his steroid dosage prior to reporting to Brussels, but was forced to increase the medication when the Agency refused to provide him with an accommodation of his disability.  We find the evidence supports Complainant’s position that his condition had stabilized and thus, the Agency is liable for the worsening of his condition. The Commission finds that an award of $60,000.00 is reasonable under the circumstances. See Complainant v. Dep’t of Transp., EEOC Appeal No. 0720140022 (Sept. 16, 2015) (Complainant awarded $60,000.00 where Agency’s failure to accommodate resulted in depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and exacerbation of existing symptoms); Complainant v. Soc. Sec. Admin., EEOC Appeal No. 0720130013 (Aug. 14, 2014) (Complainant awarded $60,000.00 where Agency’s failure to accommodate resulted in exacerbation of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress, and elevated blood pressure); Henery v. Dep’t of the Navy, EEOC Appeal No. 07A50034 (Sept. 22, 2005) ($65,000.00 awarded where Complainant suffered from frustration, negativity, and loss of sleep for a four-year period, as well as physical pain associated with the resulting excessive walking. The discrimination caused significant increase in Complainant’s need for medical treatment, as well as an increase in physical and emotional harm). The Commission finds that this amount takes into account the severity of the harm suffered and his pre-existing condition, and is also consistent with prior Commission precedent. Finally, the Commission finds this award is not “monstrously excessive” standing alone, is not the product of passion or prejudice, and is consistent with the amount awarded in similar cases.  See Jackson v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC Appeal No. 01972555 (Apr. 15, 1999) (citing Cygnar v. City of Chicago, 865 F. 2d 827, 848 (7th Cir. 1989)).

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Inbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

In response to our recent post, Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints, we received an email from a reader who gave us permission to share the following, purposely stripped of specific details for obvious reasons:

“I want to comment on your post about the letter Congressman Cummings wrote to Secretary Tillerson. I filed an EEO complaint against the agency and have suffered immensely in my professional and personal life. What struck out to me from your post was this: “victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.” I can tell you that going to Congress or the press is absolutely something I’m pondering, and it’s precisely for the reason you stated. There is no real recourse or redress. There is zero accountability. The State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media. I probably won’t be the one to lead the charge. The State Department has caused enough damage in my life, but it definitely needs to be accountable to SOMEONE. I hope a new era is on the horizon, but I won’t be holding my breath.”

 

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Congress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple Complaints

Posted: 12:47 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about Senators seeking a review/analysis of @StateDept and @USAID sexual harassment and assault data. We have issues with the current harassment data, and sexual assault data in particularly is hard to come by. We want to know how many sexual harassment settlements were made, and how much. We also want to know how many sexual assaults reports have been made, how many cases were refused prosecution by the Department of Justice, and what happens to these cases/victims and their careers. We realized that we can scream our head off in this blog, but only Congress can force the State Department to make this data public (anonymized with no personally identifiable information). That time may be slow in coming, but it is coming.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on January 22 sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson requesting information about members of the Department’s Senior Executive Service (SES) who have been the subjects of multiple complaints, including Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints. We don’t know what are the specific complaints in this case but EEOC discrimination complaint types include AgeDisabilityEqual Pay/CompensationGenetic InformationHarassmentNational OriginPregnancyRace/ColorReligionRetaliationSex, and Sexual Harassment.

Representative Cummings notes in his letter that “Several career employees at the State Department, including one of my constituents, have written to me raising serious allegations that the Department has repeatedly failed to eliminate the hostile work environment created by a member of the SES, [NAME REDACTED].” Mr. Cummings letter says that the employees indicated to him that numerous complaints have been filed against this individual “that resulted in settlements, but the Department has taken little action to hold this executive accountable or protect employees from abusive management practices.”

We understand that there are multiple individuals involved in the complaints shared with the House Oversight Committee but we don’t know the exact numbers, and whether or not this specific inquiry involves one specific SES member or more. It is telling that the trend on the complaints has moved to the Hill, and no longer localized within the agency. Is this an indicator that the current reporting system is not responsive to the needs of those affected? Or are we just living in a different era?  We do not want to see a trial by media, especially in the hands of politicians, but victims with no real recourse for redress may decide that talking to the Hill or the press is the only action left for them, no matter the personal consequences.

Also worth noting that Mr. Cumming’s request is specific to the Senior Executive Service, the senior ranks of the Civil Service, and does not include the senior ranks of the Foreign Service.

Mr. Cummings letter is asking the State Department to respond to the following requests:

1. an itemized list, with personally identifiable information removed, enumerating  each informal and formal complaint filed against [NAME REDACTED] at any time during his career, including but not limited to EEO complaints, citing:

  • (a) the date on which each complaint was filed;
  • (b) the base(s) of the complaint;
  • (c) the dates on which the complaint advanced through the informal and formal complaint steps;
  • (d) whether there was any finding arising from the complaint that discriminatory or retaliatory action had occurred;
  • (e) whether the complaint resulted in a settlement; and
  • (f) the terms of any settlement (including any monetary amounts included in the settlement); and

2. The number of Senior Executives against whom more than one informal or formal complaint has been filed with the Department of State at any time during the past five years.

3. All Department policies governing how evaluations of Senior Executives’ performance account for their work creating equality of opportunity for all employees.

See HOGR Cummings January 22, 2018 letter to Tillerson

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Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault Data

Posted: 2:29 am ET

 

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ranking Member of the SFRC Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, led the Committee’s Democrats in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green on January 17, requesting a review and analysis of data to better understand the scope of sexual harassment and assault issues at the Department and Agency, in order to consider appropriate policy changes to address the problems.

ABOUT TIME.

Note that back in September 2016,  this blog wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. We were also interested in overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. We did not ask for names, only numbers. We simply asked for an accounting of sexual assault reports since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. We were sure the data must be available somewhere. How could it not?

This was the State Department’s official response at that time:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

That remains a shocking response.

Without looking at their data by location and offense, or for that matter by individuals accused, how is the State Department to know when there are serial offenders in its ranks? (See The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief).

In its 4th Quarter 2017 report for period ending September 30, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) does have some information on Equal Employment Opportunity Data required by the No Fear Act.  The public report indicates that reprisal is the number one complaint by basis in FY2017.  Non-sexual harassment went from 72 complaints in 2016 to 103 at the end of FY2017. The comparative report notes 3 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016 and 6 complaints at end of FY2017.

The average number of days in investigation? 207.17 days.

Total Findings of Discrimination after a hearing for sexual harassment? Zero. In 2012.

Also zero in 2013, in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, and through the end of FY2017. Zero.

Apparently, S/OCR does not also count cases reversed by the EEOC like that 2016 case where S/OCR did not find sexual harassment but where the EEOC decided that the complainant was indeed subjected to sexual harassment and ordered the State Department to take remedial actions (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).

S/OCR was recently a presenter in a State Department Q&A session “Should I Report That? How (and when) to Report Workplace Conflict, Harassment & Bias in the Department”.

To read more about our previous posts on sexual assault, click here; for sexual harassment, click here.

Below is the text of the letter to Secretary Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green:

We write to draw to your attention the November 28, 2017 letter signed by over 200 national security professionals who have served, often with distinction, in the State Department, the intelligence community, USAID, and the Pentagon about their experiences of (or serving as witnesses to) incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault inside our national security bureaucracies.

This letter speaks to what we believe remains a critical issue that too many of our national security institutions have been too slow to address: sexual assault and harassment and its effects on the professionalism and effective functioning of those institutions. These incidents and the pervasive culture that all too frequently excuses these behaviors and actions have had serious and detrimental consequences for the careers and lives of those affected – and by depriving the United States of the service of some of our best and brightest, a deep and negative effect on our national security.

To better address this issue, we would urge you to provide the Foreign Relations Committee a review of your current methods for data collection, oversight, reporting structure, victim protections, analysis and anti-sexual harassment training, including employee feedback on these mechanisms and how they are being implemented. In our oversight capacity, we hope to work with you, to review and analyze the data to better understand the scope of the problem we confront as we consider appropriate policy changes to address it.

The November 28 letter contends that training is all too often “erratic” and “irregular,” and that policies often go unnoticed among staff. In our experiences serving on the oversight committee with responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID we concur with this contention. We would urge that you pay special attention to whether anti-harassment training is adequate, how it is implemented, and how it is enforced, in your respective reviews. We also urge you to examine your procedures for disciplinary actions to ensure that those who demonstrate improper behavior are held accountable for their actions.

The letter also calls for a number of reforms including a clear indication that national security leadership will not tolerate certain behavior, ensuring the full accessibility and functioning of “multiple, clear, private” channels to report abuse without fear of retribution, and ensuring sufficiently regular, mandatory, and instructive training for employees and contractors. We would be interested in your thoughts and comments on these potential areas for reform.

We also urge that you each take the opportunity to work with us to determine what additional resources are necessary to ensure that each report and allegation receives proper attention, that your offices are collecting all the relevant data, that cases are addressed in a timely and confidential fashion, and that training is fully implemented across the State and USAID workforce.

At a moment in our country when we are being reminded anew of the scope and challenge of sexual harassment in the workplace, we are rededicating ourselves here in the Senate to addressing this issue in our own ranks. The Legislative branch faces similar challenges and that while we work to address them, we expect the same from executive branch agencies. For our part, in addition to exploring appropriate oversight and legislative action to ensure that you have the resources and focus that you need to address these issues, we also intend to place additional emphasis on these issues in the confirmation process. We intend to ensure that nominees live up to the highest standards of behavior, and will seek commitments regarding how they intend to address sexual harassment and assault if they are confirmed.

Lastly, we note that the abuses, harassment and assaults noted in the November 28 letter are enabled by an environment in which the diversity of our nation – one of our “secret weapons” and competitive advantages as a nation – is not reflected in the national security workforce. This is especially true at the senior levels. At the State Department, for example, women and men enter the Foreign Service in roughly comparable numbers, but only about one-third of our senior Foreign Service Officers are women. Although women comprise a majority of the Civil Service, the Senior Executive Service remains 61% male and 89% white. Similarly disturbing trends come to light when analyzing the salaries, bonuses and expectations of workplace behavior amongst men and women working in national security roles. We still have a long way to go on gender equality in the national security workforce, and encourage you to share with us as well your vision for how you plan to address deficiencies in recruitment, retention and promotion to assure that your national security workforce is equitably balanced.

The members of our national security workforce should not be forced to spend their time and energy combatting harassment and a culture of tolerance for disrespectful behavior. Rather, they should be free to focus on what they do best – working to keep our nation safe. And we know from numerous studies that a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes. A 2015 McKinsey study found that a more diverse workforce is more successful through improved decision-making, leadership, and financial progress. We know that to be true in the private sector and we know that to be true for government as well.

Mindful that there are myriad challenges and opportunities to better address sexual harassment in the workplace we do not seek nor do we expect you to develop a cookie-cutter approach to these issues. Rather, we call on you to respect the dignity of each member of our national security workforce by ensuring an environment in which each individual is capable of fully contributing his or her talents to our national security, without obstruction.

The original text of letter is posted here.

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@StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

For those attending the event, here are a few items to read though this is not an exhaustive list. Help us ask these presenters questions that State/PA and State/DS have long ignored:

While we are on the subject, let us revisit a classic case of sexual harassment, where the State Department, specifically one of the presenting offices in the January 11 session had determined that “the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur” only to be reversed by the EEOC.

On January 4, 2012, Complainant filed Complaint 24 alleging that the Agency discriminated against her based on her national origin (Arabic/Iraqi), sex (female), religion (Christian), color, and in reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII when:

3. Her teaching contract was not renewed after August 5, 2011;

4. She was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited to, name calling and sharing an office.  She specifically asserted that since her conversion to Christianity, she was taunted by her Iraqi colleagues, who called her a “peasant,” a “prostitute,” a “bitch,’ and a “daughter of a dog.” She asserted further that she had been told that she had “sold her religion” and had a shoe thrown at her.  Complainant further asserted that she had been the victim of an unsolicited sexual overture by a colleague; and

5. On September 23, 2011, she was not selected for a full time teaching position.

The Agency completed its initial investigation on Complaint 1 in November 2012.  It did not complete an investigation on Complaint 2.  On Complaint 2, according to the Agency, Complainant did not submit an affidavit for the investigation.  Around that time – on March 14, 2013 – Complainant signed forms withdrawing Complaints 1 and 2.5  The Agency ceased processing Complaint 2, but went ahead and issued a FAD on Complaint 1 on May 13, 2013.

In its FAD, the Agency found no discrimination on Complaint 1.  Complainant filed an appeal.  On appeal, the Agency did not note that Complainant previously withdrew her complaint.

In EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236 (May 16, 2014), we recounted that Complainant was provided the right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge, but there was no evidence she did so.  We reversed the FAD on the ground that the investigation was inadequate.  Unaware that that Complainant withdrew Complaints 1 and 2, we ordered the Agency to do a supplemental investigation and to consolidate Complaint 2 with Complaint 1 if the Agency was still processing Complaint 2 and had not yet issued a final decision thereon.

In its request for reconsider EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236, the Agency argued that it issued its FAD on Complaint 1 in error, and that Complainant previously withdrew Complaints 1 and 2.  It submitted a copy of its letter to the EEOC compliance officer about the withdrawal of Complaint 1, and Complainant’s signed withdrawals.  We denied the request on the ground that it was untimely filed, and repeated our order in EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236.

Following a supplemental investigation on Complaint 1, the Agency issued a new FAD finding no discrimination therein.  The Agency found that Complainant was not denied the opportunity to attend training and to proctor tests, and the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur.  The Agency recounted that it ceased processing Complaint 2 after she withdrew it.6

The EEOC’s decision says that the “Complainant was not subjected to discrimination regarding issue 2” but it determined that “Complainant was subjected to discrimination based on her sex regarding issue 1 – sexual harassment.”

This case which was filed in 2010 was decided by the EEOC on July 7, 2016. Six years. The State Department was ordered to take the following remedial actions within 150 days after the decision became final, and was directed to submit a report of compliance, as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”  The report shall include supporting documentation of the agency’s calculation of back pay and other benefits due complainant, including evidence that the corrective action has been implemented.”

1. The Agency is directed to conduct training at FSI, School of Language Studies for all management and staff in the Arabic Section.  The training shall focus on how to identify and prevent sexual harassment connected with employment.14

2.  If S2 is still employed with the Agency, it shall consider taking disciplinary action against him.  The Agency shall report its decision.  If the Agency decides to take disciplinary action, it shall identify the action taken.  If the Agency decides not to take disciplinary action, it shall set forth the reason(s) for its decision not to impose discipline.

3.  The Agency shall gather evidence on compensatory damages, including providing Complainant an opportunity to submit evidence of her pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages regarding being sexually harassed.  For guidance on what evidence is necessary to prove pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, the parties are directed to EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Compensatory and Punitive Damages Available Under § 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (July 14, 1992) (available at eeoc.gov.)  Thereafter, the Agency shall calculate damages, pay Complainant any damages awarded, and issue a new FAD on damages appealable to the Commission.

The State Department was also directed to post the EEOC order:

The Agency is ordered to post at its Foreign Service Institute, School of Language Studies copies of the attached notice.  Copies of the notice, after being signed by the Agency’s duly authorized representative, shall be posted both in hard copy and electronic format by the Agency within 30 calendar days of the date this decision becomes final, and shall remain posted for 60 consecutive days, in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted.  The Agency shall take reasonable steps to ensure that said notices are not altered, defaced, or covered by any other material.  The original signed notice is to be submitted to the Compliance Officer at the address cited in the paragraph entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision,” within 10 calendar days of the expiration of the posting period.

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