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EEOC Finds @StateDept Liable Under the Rehabilitation Act in US Embassy Kabul Medical Clearance Denial

Posted: 12:21 am ET

 

This is a case where an FSO previously diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis was granted a Class 2 medical clearance for an assignment at the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  While at post, the FSO developed pericarditis and was hospitalized in Kabul in 2013; she was subsequently medevaced to Texas. The FSO was later told by State/MED that she retained her Class 2 Medical Clearance, but it was not Kabul-approved.  In August 2013, the FSO filed an EEO complaint alleging that the State Department discriminated against her on the basis of disability. The State Department’s decision  notes that in denying her clearance, its medical officers failed to conduct a sufficient individualized assessment of the risk posed by Complainant’s medical condition and its impact on her ability to return safely to Kabul.  It held “that there was no evidence that the medical officers and Medical Review Panel took into account the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, and the likelihood that the harm will occur or the imminence of the potential harm, as required by the law.”  It also concluded that MED“improperly denied Complainant a Class 2 medical clearance (Kabul-approved).”  The FSO on appeal asserted that she was not provided with full relief, including reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. In response to that appeal, the State Department noted that its final decision was, get this — “erroneously issued.”

Summary of Case via EEOC:

In September 2011, Complainant was assigned to work as an Administrative Officer at the Agency’s Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Complainant had been diagnosed with ongoing rheumatoid arthritis since 1999. In conjunction with her assignment to Kabul, Complainant was reviewed by the State Department’s Office of Medical Services (State/MED) for a medical clearance.  Complainant was granted a Class 2 (Kabul-approved) medical clearance 2 and she started her duties in Kabul.  While on leave from Kabul in the United States in June 2012, Complainant saw a doctor and was prescribed a new medication for her arthritis called Leflunomide. At the time, Complainant did not report that she was taking this new medication to Agency medical officials.

In April 2013, Complainant developed pericarditis which led to her hospitalization in Kabul.  At that time, her physicians at the hospital advised her to stop taking Leflunomide and she did so.  Upon her release from the hospital, Embassy medical officials made the decision to send Complainant back to the United States for an evaluation by her own physicians. On May 7, 2013, Complainant departed Kabul for El Paso, Texas.

Upon her return to El Paso, Complainant was examined by her own physician (“Complainant’s Physician”) for clearance to return to Kabul.  She provided documentation to the Agency’s Office of Medical Services indicating that her physician had no concerns with her return to Kabul. On May 31, 2013, Complainant was initially informed by the Agency’s physician (“Agency Physician”) that her medical clearance for Kabul would be renewed.

However, on June 3, 2013, the Agency Physician informed her that she retained her Class 2 Medical Clearance, but was not Kabul-approved.  Complainant was told that the reason for the denial of her clearance to return to Kabul was her use of Leflunomide, a drug banned by the Department of Defense for use by personnel assigned to Afghanistan.3  As Complainant had stopped using the medication since her April 2013 hospitalization, she appealed the denial of her medical clearance for Kabul.  Her appeal was denied by the Agency’s Medical Review Panel on the grounds that her cessation of Leflunomide was too recent. The Panel indicated that Complainant needed to show a period of at least 12 month of “clinical stability” before she could return to Kabul.  The Panel defined clinical stability as “the absence of systemic clinical manifestations of pericarditis and rheumatogic problems.”  There was some speculation that, because Leflunomide reduces resistance to infection, Complainant’s pericarditis may have resulted from its use.  Complainant then requested an Administrative Waiver to allow her to return to her position in Kabul.  That waiver was also denied on June 19, 2013.  Since May 2013, Complainant has been working from the Agency’s El Paso, Texas, Intelligence Center.

On August 22, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of disability (rheumatoid arthritis) when her “Return to Post Authorization” was not reinstated and she was prevented from returning to work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Complainant requested a hearing before an EEOC Administrative Judge (AJ).  However, on March 10, 2014, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). In its decision, the Agency conceded the Complainant was an individual with a disability as defined by the Rehabilitation Act.  The Agency further determined that Complainant was an otherwise qualified individual with a disability, as she had been performing in the position in question in Kabul for the preceding two years, and had the requisite knowledge, experience, skill, and education to perform the position.

The Agency’s decision then noted that Complainant was denied a Class 2 Medical Clearance (Kabul-approved) because of the perceived risk of harm she posed to herself due to her recent use of the drug Leflunomide. As a result of this determination, Complainant was prevented from returning to her previously-approved assignment in Kabul.  The Agency’s decision went on to conclude that, in denying her clearance, its medical officers failed to conduct a sufficient individualized assessment of the risk posed by Complainant’s medical condition and its impact on her ability to return safely to Kabul.  Specifically, Agency held that there was no evidence that the medical officers and Medical Review Panel took into account the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, and the likelihood that the harm will occur or the imminence of the potential harm, as required by the law.  The Agency decision noted that medical opinions that supported Complainant ability to safely return to Kabul were improperly given little weight during the medical clearance determination.  Accordingly, the Agency’s final decision concluded that it improperly denied Complainant a Class 2 medical clearance (Kabul-approved).

Based on its finding that Agency medical staff had failed to provide Complainant with an individualized assessment, the Agency ordered the Office of Medical Services to go forward and actually conduct the required individualized assessment of Complainant’s medical condition and her ability to return to the Administrative Officer position at the Agency’s Embassy in Kabul without posing a significant risk of substantial harm to herself or others.

This appeal followed.  On appeal, Complainant did not challenge the findings by the Agency, but asserted that she was not provided with full relief, including reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

In response to the appeal, the Agency noted that its final decision was erroneously issued in light of Complainant’s previous request for a hearing.  As such, the Agency argued that the final decision should be voided.  In response, Complainant argued that the final decision should not be considered void and the matter should not be remanded for a hearing.

EEOC ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS: Violation of Rehabilitation Act

As an initial matter, we find that Complainant’s statement on appeal constitutes a withdrawal of her earlier hearing request.  As such, we deny the Agency’s request to void its final decision.

In that decision, the Agency found that its medical staff failed to conduct a proper individualized assessment as required by the Rehabilitation Act when Complainant was prevented from returning to work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.  Complainant does not challenge the Agency’s findings in its final decision.  As such, we affirm the Agency’s specific findings.  However, the Agency did not expressly state that its actions constituted discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

As evidenced by the Agency’s final decision, there is no dispute that Complainant is an individual with a disability who was otherwise qualified for the position in she had previously held in Kabul. In other words, she met the skill, experience, education and other job requirements to perform the duties of the position in Kabul, apart from the Agency’s decision to retract her medical clearance for work in Kabul.

The Agency noted in its findings in its own decision that Complainant’s Physician provided medical documentation that Complainant was no longer taking Leflunomide, the drug of concern, had not had flare-ups of her medical condition, and had embarked on a healthier lifestyle. However, the Agency conceded that Complainant’s supporting medical documentation was improperly “given little if any weight.”  The Agency also admitted in it decision that the denial of the Class 2 Medical Clearance was due to the “perceived risk of harm she posed to herself or others” and not on an actual risk.  Based on the record including the medical evidence provided by Complainant’s Physician, we find that Complainant has shown that she was qualified for the position in question in Kabul and was only prevented from doing so based on the Agency’s perception that she posed a safety risk.  This moves the burden of proof squarely to the Agency to prove that there is a significant risk of substantial harm. Massingill v. Dep’t. of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Appeal No. 01964890 (July 14, 2000).  See also, Branham v. Snow, 392 F.3d 896 (7th Cir. 2005) (“employer’s burden to show that an employee posed a direct threat to workplace safety that could not be eliminated by reasonable accommodation”); Hutton v. Elf Atochem N. America, 273 F.3d 884, 893 (9th Cir. 2001) (direct threat affirmative defense).

Here, as already noted, the Agency’s own decision concluded that Complainant was denied a Class 2 Medical Clearance because of perceived risk of harm she posed to herself or others.  Our regulations permit the Agency to deny job assignments on the basis of disability where such an assignment would pose a direct threat. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r). A “direct threat” is defined as a “significant risk of substantial harm” that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. Interpretive Guidance of Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Appendix to 29 C.F.R. Part 1630, § 1630.2(r); Echazabal v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc. 536 U.S. 73 (2002); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r).

The issue in finding direct threat is “not…whether a risk exists, but whether it is significant.” Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. at 649. A direct threat must be based on an individualized assessment of the individual that takes into account: (1) the duration of the risk, (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm, (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur, and (4) the imminence of the potential harm. Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Appendix to 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(r). The individual assessment must be based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence. Id. A determination of significant risk cannot be based merely on an employer’s subjective evaluation, or, except in cases of a most apparent nature, merely on medical reports.

The Agency held in its final decision that it “failed to conduct a sufficiently individualized assessment of the risk posed by Complainant’s medical condition, and its impact on her ability to return safely to Kabul.  There is no evidence that the following factors were taken into account: 1) the duration of the risk; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; 3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and 4) the imminence of the potential harm.”  Based on the record and the Agency’s own findings in its decision, we determine that the Agency has not met its burden of establishing that Complainant’s return to Kabul would have posed a direct threat.  Accordingly, the Agency’s defense to denying Complainant the Class 2 Medical Clearance was not established, and the Agency is liable under the Rehabilitation Act.

As a result of this violation of the Rehabilitation Act, Complainant is entitled to make-whole relief, which the Agency did not provide her in its final decision.  First, the Agency should offer Complainant the assignment in Kabul if she chooses to return. See Nathan v. Department of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0720070014 (July 19, 2013) (awarding the complainant the position for which he applied following a determination that the agency violated the Rehabilitation Act when it medically disqualified him without an individualized assessment). In addition, Complainant correctly argues that she should be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs for processing her EEO complaint, as well as the opportunity to support her claim for compensatory damages. Also, we find that the Agency provide training to relevant management highlighting the Agency’s obligations with respect to the Rehabilitation Act.

The EEOC concludes the case with a modification of the State Department’s  final decision and remanded the matter to the agency with the following order signed by Carlton M. Hadden on October 25, 2016.  The EEOC case file notes that compliance with the Commission’s corrective action is mandatory.

The Agency is ordered to take the following remedial action:

1. Within 60 calendar days from the date this decision is issued, the Agency shall offer Complainant an assignment in Kabul substantially similar to the one she lost. If Complainant rejects the offer of the assignment, the Agency shall use the date of rejection for purposes of back pay calculations as noted below.  If Complainant accepts the assignment, the Agency shall use the date Complainant assumes the assignment for purposes of back pay.

2. The issue of compensatory damages is REMANDED to the Agency. On remand, the Agency shall conduct a supplemental investigation on compensatory damages, including providing the Complainant an opportunity to submit evidence of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. 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.) The Agency shall complete the investigation and issue a final decision appealable to the EEOC determining the appropriate amount of damages within 150 calendar days after this decision is issued.

3. The Agency shall determine if Complainant is entitled to an award of back pay as a result of the denial of her return to her assignment in Kabul.  The Agency shall determine the appropriate amount of back pay, with interest, and other benefits due Complainant, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501, no later than sixty (60) calendar days after the date this decision is issued.  The Complainant shall cooperate in the Agency’s efforts to compute the amount of back pay and benefits due, and shall provide all relevant information requested by the Agency.  We note that the Agency should consider if there would have been a difference in locality pay and benefits to Complainant including but not limited to promotions or other incentives for an assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

If there is a dispute regarding the exact amount of back pay and/or benefits, the Agency shall issue a check to the Complainant for the undisputed amount within sixty (60) calendar days of the date the Agency determines the amount it believes to be due.  The Complainant may petition for enforcement or clarification of the amount in dispute.  The petition for clarification or enforcement must be filed with the Compliance Officer, at the address referenced in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”

4. Within sixty (60) days from the date this decision is issued, the Agency is ordered to provide at least eight (8) hours of training to the responsible officials covering their responsibilities under the Rehabilitation Act. The training shall cover the Agency’s obligations regarding the provision of reasonable accommodation, as well as its obligation to conduct an individualized assessment pursuant to the direct threat defense.

5. If Complainant has been represented by an attorney (as defined by 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501(e)(1)(iii)), she is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in the processing of the complaint, including this appeal.  29 C.F.R. § 1614.501(e).  The award of attorney’s fees shall be paid by the Agency.  The attorney shall submit a verified statement of fees to the Agency — not to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Federal Operations — within sixty (60) calendar days of this decision is issued.  The Agency shall then process the claim for attorney’s fees in accordance with 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501.

The State Department was also ordered to post this order within 30 days of the date of the decision for a duration of 60 consecutive days.

The Agency is ordered to post at its Washington D.C. facility 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 is issued, 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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FBI Agents Hung A Noose Over an African American DS Agent’s Workspace Twice, FBI Called It “Pranks”

Posted: 1:20 am ET

 

This is a hostile environment harassment case originally filed in 2009 with the final EEOC decision issued in July 22, 2014. It involves an African-American Diplomatic Security Agent and FBI Agents assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Tampa, Florida. The allegations include the hanging of a noose (twice) over the wall separating the DS Agent’s cubicle and adjacent workspace, and racially motivated comments  and use of the “n-word” against then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Previous to the 2014 final decision, the EEOC on the July 26, 2013 appeal writes:

“[W]e determined that Complainant’s claim involved an allegation of hostile work environment that occurred during the course of Complainant’s detail to the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).  We found that the Agency, as Complainant’s employer, and the FBI could potentially be liable for the alleged hostile work environment.  Our previous decision determined that while the Agency issued a decision concluding that there was no basis for holding it liable for the alleged hostile work environment, the FBI failed to issue an independent final decision or join in the State Department’s final decision.  In that regard, the previous decision vacated the Agency’s decision and joined the FBI as a party to the case.  The complaint was remanded to both agencies for further processing and they were ordered to issue a joint final decision addressing the issue of their respective liability for the discriminatory hostile work environment.  The record indicates that despite the Order, the agencies issued two separate decisions addressing their positions.”

According to the EEOC, the State Department’s September 30, 2013 final decision, determined that the DS Agent-complainant was “subjected to hostile working conditions which occurred on FBI premises by FBI personnel” and, therefore, it was not liable for the conduct of FBI employees.  Moreover, the State Department contended that its “management officials took prompt action to protect Complaint from the harassing behavior of the FBI employees.”  The Agency also emphasized in its decision that Complainant did not claim that any Agency official from the Department of State took any adverse or retaliatory action against him.  The State Department concluded that there was no basis for imputing liability to the Agency.

In its July 22, 2014 final decision, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s decision saying, “Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we AFFIRM the final agency decision.”

Here are the facts from the EEOC case file:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Special Agent at the Agency’s Diplomatic Security Section facility in Miami, Florida.

On October 26, 2009, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the bases of race (African-American) and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he was subjected to a hostile work environment from 2008 to July 2009 characterized by, but not limited to, threatening, offensive and hostile acts, derogatory comments and racially inflammatory statements.

The evidence gathered during the investigation2 of this matter indicates that, in September 2007, Complainant began an assignment with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) based in Tampa, Florida.  Complainant was the only State Department employee on the JTTF, which was mostly comprised of other special agents employed by the FBI. Complainant was assigned to a 15-member JTTF squad that worked in an office with opened, modular cubicles.

There is little dispute between Complainant and both agencies over the facts of this case.  The parties agree that in the spring of 2008, a noose was hung over the dividing wall of Complainant’s cubicle.  According to Complainant, at the time, he did not consider the presence of the noose to be a personal attack, but as an African American believed the action was highly offensive. When Complainant discovered that a particular FBI agent (Agent F) (white male) was responsible for hanging the noose, Complainant spoke to him about it and Mr. F apologized for the incident and took the noose down.  Complainant did not complain to any Agency or FBI official about this incident at the time, as he believed that the matter had been handled after he spoke directly to Agent F about it.

However, in the fall of 2008, conversations in the office about the upcoming presidential election began to get “heated” and specific comments were made by Agent F and two other named individuals, Agent O and Air Marshall B (both white males), that Complainant perceived as racially motivated against then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.  According Complainant, these individuals made offensive remarks such as “we can’t let some Muslim motherfucker take office” and “when I see someone with an Obama bumper sticker I speed up to see who the fuck is driving the car.”  He also said the named individuals commented that they “should put Obama bumper stickers on [their] car and go raise some hell.”  According to Complainant, such inflammatory statements were not made about the white presidential candidate. Complainant also alleged that the “n-word” was used in referring to candidate Obama. Initially, Complainant indicates that he tried not take these comments personally and to remain calm.  However, he contends that, later, the comments began to affect his working environment negatively and made him feel uncomfortable because the individuals making the statements were the same individuals that Complainant had to rely on to perform his job and for his personal safety.  Complainant asserts that he began to perceive hatred from his co-workers against African-Americans based on these comments.  He began to wonder how his co-workers felt about him.

In October 2008, another noose was hung over the cubicle adjacent to his cubicle. A Halloween mask was placed in the noose to resemble a hanging. According to Complainant, he observed the other agents laughing about the noose.  After this second noose incident, Complainant reported the conduct to his first and second line supervisors at the Agency (State) and to the individual who supervised the FBI Agents on the JTTF.  According to statements from Complainant’s supervisors at the State Department, the FBI management assured them that the matter would be investigated by the FBI’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and that the responsible FBI agents would be assigned to other squads and away from Complainant.

Complainant was interviewed by the FBI OIG in November 2008 while the FBI agents were interviewed in February 2009. The record further indicates that Complainant’s supervisors at the State Department asked for, but never received, a copy of the OIG report of investigation.3  According to Complainant, although FBI officials advised his State Department supervisor that the offending agents would be moved to new assignments to remedy the situation, the FBI JTTF supervisory officials failed to enforce the reassignment and did not take the action necessary to relocate the agents involved.  These facts were verified by the supervisors at State.

In the FBI’s supplemental investigation, the FBI Supervisory Special Agents (SSAs) and the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) averred that as soon as they were informed about the second noose incident, they requested an investigation from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.  However, the FBI’s OIG opted to conduct the investigation.  The SAC also said that he directed that the three FBI agents involved in the incidents be immediately moved to work areas away from Complainant. However, the evidence shows that only the junior agent was immediately moved, and while the other two eventually moved, the SSAs and SAC all concede that the two agents were often in Complainant’s work area because they needed access to investigative materials housed there. The SAC further stated that, after the OIG investigation was completed; all three agents were eventually subjected to disciplinary action.

According to Complainant, the work environment became worse for him after he reported the second noose incident and the matters were being investigated.  Specifically, Complainant contends that no one spoke to him and that two of the agents who were supposed to be relocated objected to the move and remained in his work area. He indicates that the FBI agents often mocked him. Complainant asserts that he felt alienated from his co-workers and could not perform the job he was assigned to do because his peers would not interact with him.  Complainant asserts that one of the offending agents was moved only two desks away from him and that the reassignment was not an effective remedy to stop the harassing conduct.  Complainant’s supervisor at State was informed by Complainant of the deteriorating situation, and conducted a site visit himself and confirmed from his own observations that the situation was hostile for Complainant.

On January 4, 2009, Complainant’s supervisor at the State Department, frustrated because FBI management did not appear to be taking appropriate action to remedy the situation, told Complainant to pack his things, leave the JTTF office and work on taskforce duties from home. Complainant did so, believing this was the only thing his supervisor at the State Department could do to protect him from the hostile work environment in the office in the absence of any corrective intervention by the FBI.  However, Complainant felt that he was being punished by having to leave the office while the offending agents were still in the office performing their jobs. Complainant contends that the hostile work environment did not end until his assignment was changed in July 2009.

In its September 30, 2013 final decision, the Agency determined that Complainant was subjected to hostile working conditions which occurred on FBI premises by FBI personnel and, therefore, it was not liable for the conduct of FBI employees.  Moreover, the Agency contends that its management officials took prompt action to protect Complaint from the harassing behavior of the FBI employees.  In addition, the Agency emphasizes in its decision that Complainant does not claim that any Agency official from the Department of State took any adverse or retaliatory action against him.  Therefore, the Agency concluded that there was no basis for imputing liability to the Agency.

Excerpt below from the EEOC’s analysis and findings:

To establish a claim of hostile environment harassment, Complainant must show that: (1) he belongs to a statutorily protected class; (2) he was subjected to harassment in the form of unwelcome verbal or physical conduct involving the protected class; (3) the harassment complained of was based on his statutorily protected class; (4) the harassment affected a term or condition of employment and/or had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the work environment and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment; and (5) there is a basis for imputing liability. […] The harasser’s conduct should be evaluated from the objective viewpoint of a reasonable person in the victim’s circumstances. Enforcement Guidance at 6.

FBI claims the two “noose” incidents were mere pranks

In applying this standard, we find that the evidence of record supports Complainant’s claim of two “noose” incidents, as well as a working environment where Complainant was subjected to derogatory comments and racially inflammatory statements occurring from the spring of 2008 to July 2009.  The FBI, however, has argued in its separate September 30, 2013 decision that the offending FBI agents were not motivated by Complainant’s race when, in two separate incidents, they hung a noose in Complainant’s work area.  The FBI claims that the incidents were mere pranks directed at another employee and not at Complainant based on his race.  The FBI also determined that the remarks by agents concerning the 2008 presidential election and candidate Barack Obama were not racially motivated.  The FBI argues that the agents merely expressed their opposition to a particular political candidate and that their comments were not a result of any animus toward Complainant’s protected class.

We disagree with the FBI’s position. In limited circumstances, the Commission has held that certain events, by themselves, may support a finding of discrimination under Title VII. See Juergensen v. Dep’t of Commerce, EEOC Appeal No. 0120073331 (Oct. 5, 2007) (a hangman’s noose is “a highly charged and powerful symbol in the history of this country, calling up painful memories of the lynching of thousands of African Americans”);  Brooks v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Request No. 05950484 (June 25, 1996).  Moreover, the record is clear that derogatory and racially inflammatory language, including the use of a highly charged racial epithet (the n-word), was openly used by the FBI agents in Complainant’s presence.  Moreover, the fact that the remark was not specifically directed toward complainant is not dispositive.  See Barber, Eley, Powell and Johnson v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Requests Nos. 05A50657, 05A50771, 05A50972, 05A50973 (March 16, 2006).  Therefore, we find that the evidence of record supports a finding that Complainant was subjected to a racially hostile work environment while serving on the FBI task force in 2008 and 2009.

Agency’s liability

In considering the Agency’s liability for this discriminatory hostile work environment, we note that an Agency is liable for harassment by a co-worker or other non-supervisor when it “knows or should have known of the conduct, unless the Agency can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(d). Whether the Agency’s action is appropriate depends upon “the severity and persistence of the harassment and the effectiveness of any initial remedial steps.” Taylor v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 05920194 (July 8, 1992).  The appropriateness of the Agency’s conduct in response to harassment depends upon “the particular facts of the case-the severity and persistence of the harassment, and the effectiveness of any initial remedial steps.” Owens v. Dep’t of Transp., EEOC Appeal No. 05940824 (Sept. 5, 1996).  Appropriate corrective action is a response that is reasonably calculated to stop the harassment.

FBI failed to advise the State Department of investigation results

The record establishes that when Complainant informed his State Department management of the hostile work environment to which he was being subjected, Agency officials immediately contacted Complainant’s FBI supervisors and were advised that the offending agents would be assigned to other teams.  Because of the unique circumstances involved in this matter, the Agency had no authority over the FBI agents and did not initiate an investigation because the matter occurred on FBI premises.  The Agency also indicates that although the FBI conducted an investigation, the FBI failed to advise the Agency of its results.  The record further indicates that Complainant’s State Department supervisor met with Complainant and advised him of the FBI’s plan to remove the offending agents and asked if Complainant wanted to take further action.  Complainant elected not to pursue any further action initially, believing that the FBI’s promised intervention into the matter would end the hostile work environment.  When Agency management later learned from Complainant that his work environment had not, in fact, improved, and that he was being alienated at the FBI offices, Complainant’s supervisor decided to have Complainant work from home in an attempt to eliminate Complainant’s exposure to the hostile work environment that the FBI had failed to end.

FBI failed to end hostile environment

The record reflects numerous emails sent between various members of Complainant’s management team at the Department of State in their efforts to support Complainant.  These emails support the affidavits of State Department officials and Complainant himself, that they initially thought that the FBI’s response to the alleged harassment was adequate.  However, when State Department management learned that the FBI had failed to end the hostile environment, it became disillusioned with the FBI’s efforts and removed Complainant from the workplace in order to protect him from further harassment. Complainant testified that he believed the Agency did everything it could to support him.

Diplomatic Security Agent-Complainant was removed from workplace

We find that when the State Department management learned of the harassment, it took prompt action by immediately contacting Complainant’s FBI supervisors in an attempt to address Complainant’s concerns and end the hostile environment.  However, because the hostile environment was created by FBI employees at an FBI location, Complainant’s supervisors had no direct authority to remedy the situation.  Instead, the Agency was forced to rely on their FBI counterparts in management to address Complainant’s concerns.  The record reflects that Agency officials kept in constant contact with Complainant during the course of the FBI’s investigation into Complainant’s allegations and, to the best of its ability, the Agency followed up on the progress of the FBI investigation.  The record further indicates that once the Agency learned that the FBI’s investigation did not alleviate the hostile environment to which Complainant was being subjected, the Agency removed Complainant from the environment and permitted him to work from home until his assignment with the FBI was terminated.  The Department of State admits that Complainant was subjected to a hostile work environment while working at the FBI.  However, record evidence shows that State Department management took prompt and immediate action to report Complainant’s claims to FBI officials and, when the FBI failed to remedy the situation, removed Complainant from the FBI work site in order to prevent further exposure to the hostile work environment.  Accordingly, we find that there is no basis for imputing liability to the Department of State for the discriminatory hostile work environment in this case.

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EEOC Case: Complaint Over Arranging Transportation to a Happy Hour in Baghdad

Posted: 12:35 am ET

Via eeoc.gov

DECISION | Complainant filed a timely appeal with this Commission from the Agency’s decision dated January 21, 2014, dismissing her complaint of unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.  Upon review, the Commission finds that Complainant’s complaint was properly dismissed pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1) for failure to state a claim.

BACKGROUND

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Foreign Services Officer at the  U. S. Embassy  in Baghdad, Iraq.

On December 20, 2013, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency subjected her to discrimination on the basis of sex (female) when she received an email from an official outside her chain of command requesting that she arrange his transportation to a happy hour.

Information in the record shows that the  email  stated “[Complainant], since you are such an expert could you put in a request for a vehicle.”   Both Complainant and  the involved official had been invited by the Australian  Embassy to go to the event, and the official’s office and Complainant’s office  had worked together in the past. The official said that Complainant had offered to arrange transportation to a meeting in the past. When the official learned that Complainant was upset by his email, he apologized.

Analysis and Findings

Under the regulations set forth at 29 C.F.R. Part 1614, an agency shall accept a complaint from an aggrieved employee or applicant for employment who believes that he or she has been discriminated against by that agency because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disabling condition.  29 C.F.R. §§ 1614.103, .106(a).  The Commission’s federal sector case precedent has long defined an “aggrieved employee” as one who suffers a present harm or loss with respect to a term, condition, or privilege of employment for which there is a remedy.  Diaz v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Request No. 05931049 (April 21, 1994).  If complainant cannot establish that s/he is aggrieved, the agency shall dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim.  29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1).

The Commission has held that where, as here, a complaint does not challenge an agency action or inaction regarding a specific term, condition, or privilege of employment, the claim of harassment may survive if it alleges conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment.  See Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993). We find that Complainant’s allegations, involving a one-time isolated email,  are insufficient to state a claim of a hostile work environment.

The Commission finds that the complaint fails to state a claim under the EEOC regulations because Complainant failed to show that she suffered harm or loss with respect to a term, condition, or privilege of employment for which there is a remedy.  See Diaz v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Request No. 05931049 (April 21, 1994).

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

The text of the entire decision is available to read here.

 

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EEOC Case: Complaint Regarding Comments on Blog Does Not State a Claim

Posted: 1:52 am ET

Via eeoc.gov

Complaint Regarding Comments on Blog Does Not State a Claim. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s dismissal of Complainant’s complaint alleging that disparaging comments were posted about him on an internet blog frequented by Agency employees who were members of a professional association. The blog contained a disclaimer that statements “do not reflect any official position” of the Agency, and there was no indication that the blog was sufficiently related to Complainant’s employment. There was also no indication that the blog was sponsored by or affiliated with the Agency or that Agency resources or official time were used to author the article in question. Alfonzo H. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160450 (April 22, 2016); request for reconsideration denied EEOC Request No. 0520160327 (July 20, 2016).

The blog cited in this case is ‘Dead Men Working’ named in the EEOC Appeal filing.  The following appears as footnotes in the same document:

1 This case has been randomly assigned a pseudonym which will replace Complainant’s name when the decision is published to non-parties and the Commission’s website.

2 According to a Declaration submitted by Complainant, officers of the AFSA learned about the contents of the blog because they receive Google alerts to note anything on the internet that mentions “AFSA,” and this blog post popped up in an alert.

3 Complainant, himself, concedes this is not the first name of the agency employee he believes authored the blog.

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Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

Posted: 7:01 pm ET

 

This is not a new case but we have not been aware of this case until we started digging around.  In 2009, a Policy Analyst with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked as a liaison to the State Department (the Agency).

According to EEOC records, in and around May 2009, the DHS employee (Complainant) was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was a State Department contractor. The incident took place in a State Department-leased apartment in Prague, Czech Republic. The EEOC decision dated June 16, 2011 notes that the accused individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency.

The complainant had to make several attempts to report the sexual assault. She was eventually directed to contact the EEO office at DHS, who took no action, and refused to take her case because the attacker was not a DHS employee. She was sent to the Violent Crimes Unit of Diplomatic Security, who investigated the case and referred it to DOJ for prosecution. DOJ took no action. A DS investigator advised her to contact State/OCR. She interacted with that office for 6-7 months but these “activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications” according to the EEOC.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Then State/OCR dismissed the case for failure to state a claim and untimely contact with an EEO counselor.

Sexual assault is a crime punishable by law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same.  Sexual assault describes the catch-all crime that encompasses unwanted sexual touching of many kinds, with links to state penal code and federal law on related crimes.  It includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts.

FindLaw notes that Federal law directs judges to examine a number of factors, including the defendant’s criminal history and his or her acceptance of responsibility, when setting a punishment. The federal law criminalizing sexual assault sets a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and also provides for fines. In addition, federal law provides that those convicted of sexual assault must compensate their victims for any expenses directly related to the crime. This can include costs for medical care, physical or occupational therapy, attorney’s fees, and other related expenses.

But first, you’ve got to investigate, charge the perpetrator and find him or her guilty.

The complainant here alleged that she was sexually assaulted in USG-leased housing, why did people send her to an Equal Employment Opportunity office for godsakes? Why did DOJ take no action? If there was probable cause for Diplomatic Security to refer this case to DOJ for prosecution, how did the contractor become a State Department employee? This incident happened in 2009, the victim did not get to file her case until a year later, and the EEOC did not make a decision until 2011. At some time during this lengthy process, the victim resigned from federal service. The unnamed alleged attacker may still be in the bureaucracy.

Sure, we could call this abysmal systems failure.

But just about every part of this process was deplorably bad. And the people who worked in the system made it so.

Excerpts below from the EEOC decision (we underlined some parts for emphasis):

Reporting sexual assault — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

In and around May 2009, Complainant was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was an Agency contractor.1 This individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency. The record does not indicate in what capacity he was employed or the date his employment began.

After making several attempts to report the sexual assault and being redirected to various components in DHS, Complainant was eventually directed to contact DHS’ EEO office, which she did on June 1, 2009. The record suggests that DHS engaged in limited EEO counseling, but took no action to process Complainant’s allegations as a potential EEO complaint.  Instead, approximately a week after her June 1 contact, DHS effectively dismissed Complainant from the EEO process, concluding that it could not entertain her issues because the alleged attacker was not its employee.  DHS then advised Complainant to contact the Agency, which she did on June 11, 2009.

Soon thereafter, a criminal investigation was initiated by the Violent Crimes Unit of the Agency’s Office of Diplomatic Security. Complainant was cautioned to refrain from discussing the May 10 incident until the investigation was complete. In October 2009, the Agency referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution upon finding probable cause to believe Complainant’s allegations were true. For reasons not reflected in the record, DOJ took no action.

On October 23, 2009, pursuant to the advice of the Violent Crimes Unit investigator, Complainant contacted the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). During the next six or seven months, she interacted with various OCR representatives whose activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications.  On May 24, 2010, Complainant filed a sparsely worded formal complaint which contained a single averment of discrimination relating to the sexual assault and several items of requested relief.

In a September 28, 2010 FAD, the Agency dismissed the May 24 complaint upon finding that it failed to state a claim and that Complainant failed to timely contact an EEO counselor.  The instant appeal followed. We note that Complainant is pro se.

Contentions on appeal

In a statement accompanying her appeal, Complainant argues that the chronology of relevant events belies the Agency’s finding that she was untimely in initiating EEO counseling. She also appears to raise questions regarding the trustworthiness of the FAD (final agency decision) by noting several errors of fact reflected in the Agency’s reasoning. The Agency filed no response.

EEOC reversed the State Department’s dismissal

The Agency does not dispute that the alleged assault occurred on May 10, 2009.  Nor does it dispute that Complainant first sought counseling on June 1, 2009 with DHS. The Agency’s finding that Complainant was untimely is premised on the apparent view that her DHS contact had no significance under subsection 105(a)(1). We conclude that it did. To rule otherwise would require the Commission to ignore the plain wording of the subsection, which provides only that aggrieved individuals contact “a” Counselor within the stated time. There is no requirement that the Counselor be from the agency that receives the complaint.3  In this case, Complainant logically initiated contact with a Counselor in the agency where she was employed.

It is self-evident that June 1, 2009 is within 45 days of May 10, 2009. We, therefore, find that Complainant’s counseling contact was timely and reverse the Agency’s dismissal on this ground.

Alleged perpetrator went from contractor to employee

The Commission’s regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1) authorizes an agency to dismiss a complaint that fails to state a claim that can be remedied through the EEO process.  In its FAD, the Agency concluded that Complainant failed to assert a remediable claim because neither she nor her alleged attacker was functioning in work status when the “event in question” occurred. The non-work status of Complainant and her alleged attacker, on May 10, 2009,  would likely be dispositive of this appeal were we to find that the “matter” in question, when the complaint was filed, was clearly confined to the alleged assault.4 Such a finding cannot be made, however, on the basis of the current record.

We are mindful, initially, that the counseling process was unduly erratic and prolonged in this case. Indeed, more than a year had elapsed before Complainant was provided the opportunity to file a formal complaint. Several events occurred, in the interim, which are potentially relevant to the sufficiency of her complaint.

For instance, by the time the complaint was filed, there had been a change in status of the individual the Agency believed had “probably” assaulted Complainant. He went from being an Agency contractor to an Agency employee. Although it is not clear whether, as a DHS “liaison” to the Agency, Complainant had (or would have)  been required to work with (or for) this individual, we find it significant that, at some point prior to filing the complaint, Complainant resigned from federal service. The record suggests that the resignation was under duress and may have related to a requirement that she refrain from discussing her ordeal.  See Complaint File, April 21, 2010 email from Complainant to named Agency official (“I don’t want to be forced to keep [the attacker’s] secret when I’m the one being hurt and losing.”)

At this juncture, we do not know how (if at all) Complainant’s employment may have been affected by the May 2009 incident. The record is wholly undeveloped in this regard. However, we can say that, if the Agency had directed Complainant to remain silent in order to protect the alleged attacker or facilitate his employment, it could hardly be found (as the Agency did) that the incident did not “involve” any term or condition of her employment. Without suggesting that the known facts in this case, by necessity, implicate a potential claim of “sexual harassment,” it is relevant to note that the Commission has recognized that harassment which occurs outside of work may state a claim when the effect of the off-duty incident creates an “intolerable influence on the employee’s working conditions.” Kokangul v. Department of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A61380 (July 6, 2006)

Deficient EEO processing — looking at you S/OCR

We make no finding with regard to the existence of a viable discrimination claim arising from the May 2009 incident. We merely find that deficiencies in processing, as well as the record, render it impossible to determine the full measure of the concerns Complainant sought to pursue through the EEO process.  The quality of the EEO counseling, provided by the Agency and DHS, left much to be desired in terms of ensuring the record would be adequate to assess the sufficiency of any formal complaint that Complainant might file.

Incomplete files

It is unclear, for example, why the Complaint File does not include the Violent Crime Unit’s report, given its obvious relevance to the matter that prompted Complainant to seek EEO counseling. Also inexplicably missing from the record is a “statement” Complainant apparently prepared during the course of the counseling process.6 The absence of this and other information renders the record insufficient to determine the nature of any claim Complainant may have sought to assert.

Should have – what, whose contractor?

Finally, we note that the Agency also relied on 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a) as a ground for dismissing the complaint, finding that Complainant should have filed it against DHS because the alleged attacker was a DHS contractor.7 This ground is also found to be without merit. There is nothing in the record that contradicts the statements made by Complainant and others that her attacker was a contractor (and later an employee) of the Agency—not DHS.

*

The complainant here would have been under chief of mission authority in Germany where she was assigned a tour of duty. We don’t know what would have been her status in the Czech Republic where the alleged attack took place. But the incident occurred in a State Department-leased apartment. So we expect that the State Department would have been the investigating authority.  This case happened in 2009 and decided by the EEOC in 2011.  This got us thinking on what procedure is in place for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We’ve spent the last several days trying to locate the Foreign Service Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook for the procedure in reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, but have been unsuccessful, so far. We were able to find 7 FAM 1940  REPORTING CRIME VICTIM CASES, but this section only apply to non-official, private Americans and the reporting covers only crimes reported to a consular officers abroad by victims, their families or by the host country government and which result in a consular officer or officers providing substantial assistance to the victim.

We’ve asked the State Department for its sexual assault regs and guidance; we’ve received a response but it deserves a separate post.

link

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EEOC Case: FS Candidate Wins Disability Discrimination Case, Sinks For Selective Service Registration Fail

Posted: 4:32 am ET

Via eeoc.gov:

On March 9, 2004, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that he was subjected to disability discrimination when he was denied an appointment to a Junior Officer position with the Foreign Service.  After an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision finding no discrimination, and Complainant appealed.  In our prior decision, we found the Agency discriminated against him when it failed to grant him a medical clearance based on its “worldwide availability” requirement.  Bitsas v. U.S. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120051657 (Sept. 30, 2009).  As relief, we ordered the Agency to retroactively offer Complainant a Junior Officer position, and to tender back pay and promotions from the date Complainant would have encumbered his position, absent discrimination, until the date he either enters on duty or is denied a medical or security clearance.  We further ordered the Agency to undertake a supplemental investigation into complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages, provide training, consider taking disciplinary action, and post a notice of the finding of discrimination.  Id.

Pursuant to our order, on November 10, 2009, the Agency sent Complainant a Conditional Offer of Appointment to a Junior Officer position, contingent on the satisfactory completion of the security, medical, and suitability clearance processes.  On January 1, 2010, Complainant received a Class 1 Medical Clearance.  However, on July 16, 2010, the Agency’s Final Review Panel (FRP) terminated Complainant’s candidacy based on suitability grounds.

The FRP concluded that, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 3328, Complainant was ineligible for federal Executive branch employment because he failed to register with the Selective Service System (SSS).  The Panel also concluded that there were several instances of misconduct in Complainant’s prior employment which rendered him ineligible for employment with the Foreign Service.  Complainant appealed this decision, but on December 8, 2010, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) determined that Complainant’s failure to register with the SSS was knowing and/or willful; thus, he was ineligible for appointment to an Executive Agency.  Complainant sought a request for reconsideration with the OPM, which was denied.

In the meantime, Complainant sent the Agency information regarding his entitlement to compensatory damages.  On April 11, 2012, the Agency issued a final decision denying compensatory damages, reasoning that the FRP’s suitability finding would have resulted in the withdrawal of his conditional offer of employment, even if he had been granted a medical clearance for worldwide availability.  Accordingly, the Agency determined complainant was not entitled to any compensatory damages.
[…]

The Agency is ordered to take the following remedial action:

1. The Agency shall determine the appropriate amount of back pay, with interest, and other benefits due Complainant, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501, no later than one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days after the date this decision becomes final.  The back pay period shall be from September 23, 2003 until the date the Agency discovered Complainant had not registered with the SSS, approximately July 16, 2010.  The Complainant shall cooperate in the Agency’s efforts to compute the amount of back pay and benefits due, and shall provide all relevant information requested by the Agency.  If there is a dispute regarding the exact amount of back pay and/or benefits, the Agency shall issue a check to the Complainant for the undisputed amount within sixty (60) calendar days of the date the Agency determines the amount it believes to be due.  The Complainant may petition for enforcement or clarification of the amount in dispute.  The petition for clarification or enforcement must be filed with the Compliance Officer, at the address referenced in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”

2. Within one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days, the Agency shall undertake a supplemental investigation to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages under Title VII. The Agency shall give Complainant notice of his right to submit objective evidence (pursuant to the guidance given in Carle v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Appeal No. 01922369 (January 5, 1993)) and request objective evidence from Complainant in support of his request for compensatory damages within forty-five (45) calendar days of the date Complainant receives the Agency’s notice.  No later than ninety (90) calendar days after the date that this decision becomes final, the Agency shall issue a final Agency decision addressing the issue of compensatory damages.  The final decision shall contain appeal rights to the Commission. The Agency shall submit a copy of the final decision to the Compliance Officer at the address set forth below.

3. The Agency shall pay Complainant’s reasonable attorney fees in accordance with the paragraph below.

4. The Agency is further 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.

See why. Read Harvey D. v. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No.0120122385 (Oct. 22, 2015) http://www.eeoc.gov/decisions/0120122385.txt

Under current law, all male U.S. citizens between 18–25 years are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Non-U.S.-citizen males between the ages of 18 and 25 (inclusive) living in the United States must also register. See the Who Must Register chart here.

 

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

Posted: 4:03 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related items:

Burn Bag: Ding! Ding! Ding! This Is Your ‘More Than Just Stupid’ Warning!

Via Burn Bag:

“A director of a regional diplomatic courier office has openly expressed he does not want to hire “women of childbearing age”. He achieves this by carefully examining candidates’ resumes when hiring to fill an EFM position. BBag, can you stop this stupidity, considering it’s from an FS-1?”

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EFM – eligible family member
FS01 – the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, last step before the Senior Foreign Service; equivalent to a full Colonel in the military

Why this is more than just stupid? SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court decides International Union, UAW v. Johnson Controls and addresses the issue of fetal hazards. In this case, the employer barred women of childbearing age from certain jobs due to potential harm that could occur to a fetus. The Court rules that the employer’s restriction against fertile women performing “dangerous jobs” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further rules that the employer’s fetal protection policy could be justified only if being able to bear children was a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) for the job. The fact that the job posed risk to fertile women does not justify barring all fertile women from the position.

The Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp. holds that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex plus other factors such as having school age children. In practical terms, EEOC’s policy forbids employers from using one hiring policy for women with small children and a different policy for males with children of a similar age.

In Gibson v. West, the Supreme Court endorses EEOC’s position that it has the legal authority to require that federal agencies pay compensatory damages when EEOC has ruled during the administrative process that the federal agency has unlawfully discriminated in violation of Title VII.

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State Dept Seeks Organizational Shrink to Assist in Foreign Service Selection Procedures

— Domani Spero

 

On September 12, the State Department published a solicitation via FedBiz.gov seeking “a certified industrial and organizational psychologist to provide advice, assistance and support for Foreign Service selection procedures.” 

Extracted from the FedBiz documents:

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 tasks the U.S. Department of State (the Department), and the Board of Examiners (BEX) specifically, with the responsibility for the evaluation and selection of candidates for the Foreign Service. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment, Board of Examiners (HR/REE/BEX) oversees these examinations, including the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA), and selection procedures for Foreign Service generalists, specialists and limited non-career appointments. HR/REE/BEX is seeking a certified industrial and organizational psychologist to provide necessary advice and assistance in support of the Foreign Service Selection Process.

The contractor will assist the Department in ensuring that all examinations for Foreign Service generalists, specialists and limited non career appointments have been professionally validated and constitute a reliable means of identifying those applicants who show the greatest possibility of success in the Foreign Service. The successful contractor will provide consultative and analytical services as requested including formulating program alternatives and operational support for successful implementation of any revisions to testing and hiring procedures.

 

According to the solicitation, the organizational shrink, formally known as the contractor here shall perform the following work, as assigned by the Department:

1. Assist in evaluating the extent to which the generalist, specialist and limited non-career appointment hiring programs are effective in meeting the needs of the Foreign Service.

2. Work with the contractor who develops and administers the FSOT to review test components, as directed by HR/REE/BEX, including redesign of sections where requested; review and advise HR/REE/BEX on any revisions to the FSOT prior to their inclusion in the Department’s hiring process.

3. Attend, as the Department’s expert contractor, meetings of the Board of Examiners for the Foreign Service, established pursuant to Section 211 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. At the request of HR/REE/BEX, attend meetings with the Director General that involve discussion of Foreign Service selection procedures.

4. Provide advice on the procedures and training involved in the generalist, specialist and limited non-career appointment Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP), and assess the validity of QEP results.

5. Provide advice on the content validation of the Foreign Service Oral Assessment process (FSOA) and prepare FSOA validation reports for use by the Bureau of Human Resources.

6. Work with subject matter experts to create, review and revise all Foreign Service Selection Process assessments (QEPs, interviews, cases, competency tests, etc.). Provide programming and administrative support for online competency assessments.

7. Compile, manage, and report on assessment data. Validate assessments by conducting studies to ensure compliance with legal and professional testing guidelines. Analyze assessment data for statistical quality, adverse impact, and other purposes (e.g., answering questions from management).

8. Create feedback reports for assessors and management. Conduct special studies on the assessments (e.g., passing rates, comparing equivalence, faking, etc.) as requested. To include documenting all validation evidence, analyses, and special studies in technical reports.

9. Monitor all aspects of the implementation of the assessments and make continuous improvements.

10. Provide advice on alternate methods of entry to the FSOA (other than the FSOT) and assess the validity of these programs.

11. Evaluate on a recurring basis the Department’s recruiting and testing procedures, and advise HR/REE on how best to meet its hiring objectives and ensure the validity of any changes made to the examination processes.

12. Develop an online practice FSOT that potential candidates can use to assess their chances of passing the FSOT. Provide support to HR/REE for the Department’s recruiting mobile application.

13. Provide advice on the Department’s specialist hiring program, including possible examination alternatives; to include remote testing. Review and revise specialist and limited non-career appointment vacancy announcements and questionnaires used for initial screening of applicants.

14. Provide the Department with professional expertise in litigation should there be legal challenges to the FSOT, Oral Assessment,specialist examinations, or selection processes, including through production of requested documentation and service as an expert witness.

15. Provide professional advice and consultation to other HR offices within the Department as requested by HR/REE.

16. Define the mission-critical competencies required of entry-level Foreign Service Officers. Use this information to update the 2007 Job Analysis of Foreign Service Officer Positions

17. Conduct organizational or workforce surveys. To include a survey of generalists and specialists who have participated in the Oral Assessment; Entry-level Officers; and other candidate groups as designated by BEX.

Additionally the contractor should be an expert in psychometrics, the statistical science of psychological measures that are used to comprise knowledge tests and shall be conversant with:

  • The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (1978) . These guidelines were established by federal agencies in charge of enforcing employment anti-discrimination laws. Among those agencies are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and the Department of Justice.
  • The Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures , published by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 {Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241)} prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

 

The State Department expects the following deliverables:

  • Based on its observations, the Contractor shall prepare a comprehensive report on generalist and specialist hiring programs, including the FSOT, Foreign Service Oral Assessment and specialist hiring programs, in addition to test-specific reports. The contractor may be required to brief HR/REE/BEX on the findings contained in the report to the Contract Officer’s Representative (COR).
  • The Contractor shall develop and provide in person (not recorded) an up-to-date Oral Assessment training program for assessors in order to ensure consistency among those conducting the oral assessment. Training shall address at a minimum the following elements: orientation to the concept of assessment centers and their role in pre-hire screening, background on the Foreign Service Oral Assessment process, and any revisions made since the last training session.
  • The Contractor shall provide training to BEX on each of the testing exercises that make up the FSOA (see http://www.careers.state.gov) and shall provide detailed guidance on scoring methodologies and anchors. The contractor shall ensure that the training is consistent with professional and legal standards or guidance.
  • The Contractor shall conduct a job analysis of the five Foreign Service Officer career tracks to determine what knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics FSOs need to perform their jobs effectively. Based on this analysis, the contractor will update the current blue prints being used by the Department.
  • The contractor shall compile evidence on the validity of the FSOA, and prepare a report summarizing such evidence, including a complete analysis of the demographics of those participating in the FSOA.
  • The contractor shall develop, monitor, provide, and maintain a comprehensive training program for the panel members involved in the generalists qualifications/evaluation/assessment (QEP).
  • As necessary, assist the Department, including its legal counsel, in legal matters pertaining to the FSOT, QEP and Oral Assessment, or other selection procedures established for the Foreign Service generalists and specialists.
  • The contractor will be required to compile a library of materials created pursuant to the contract on the content validation for all FSOTs administered during the contract period. Title to the library of materials compiled by the Contractor for which the Contractor is entitled to be reimbursed under this contract shall pass to and vest in the Government.

A couple of thoughts — this organizational psychologist has the potential to impact the hiring process of the State Department. Two, we are not sure if this is one of the results of the EEOC class action, but the requirement that this contractor provide the Department “with professional expertise in litigation should there be legal challenges to the FSOT, Oral Assessment,specialist examinations, or selection processes” seems to indicate that an expected challenge/s may be in the works.

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EEOC Affirms Class Action Certification For Disabled Applicants to the U.S. Foreign Service

— Domani Spero

 

In October 2010, we blogged that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has certified a class action brought on behalf of all disabled Foreign Service applicants against the U.S. State Department.  (see  EEOC certifies class action against State Dept on behalf of disabled Foreign Service applicants).

Related items:

Meyer, et al. v. Clinton (Department of State), EEOC Case No. 570-2008-00018X (September 30, 2010) (certifying class action based upon disability discrimination in State Department’s Foreign Service Officer hiring)

This past June, the EEOC affirmed the class certification for applicants to the Foreign Service denied or delayed in hiring because of their disabilities, based upon the “worldwide availability” policy.  (see Meyer v. Kerry (Dept. of State), EEOC Appeal No. 0720110007 (June 6, 2014)).

The State Department Disability Class Action now has its own website here.  Bryan Schwartz in San Francisco and Passman & Kaplan in Washington represented the class. The State Department’s Office of Legal Advisor and Office of Civil Rights represented the department.

Below is an excerpt from the class action website:

The EEOC decision found that the Class Agent in the matter, Doering Meyer, has had multiple sclerosis (MS) in remission for decades, without need for treatment, but was initially rejected outright for State Department employment anywhere in the world because the Department’s Office of Medical Services perceived that her MS might cause her problems in “a tropical environment.” This was notwithstanding a Board Certified Neurologist’s report approving her to work overseas without limitation.
[…]
The Department challenged the judge’s initial certification decision because, among other reasons, Meyer eventually received a rare “waiver” of the worldwide availability requirement, with her attorney’s assistance, and obtained a Foreign Service post. She is now a tenured Foreign Service Officer, most recently in Croatia, and being posted to Lithuania. Meyer’s attorney argued to the EEOC that she was still delayed in her career growth by the initial denial in 2006, and missed several posting opportunities over the course of an extended period, losing substantial income and seniority. The EEOC agreed with Meyer – modifying the class definition slightly to include not only those denied Foreign Service Posts, but those “whose employment was delayed pending application for and receipt of a waiver, because the State Department deemed them not ‘worldwide available’ due to their disability.”

Schwartz indicated that the case may ultimately have major implications not only for Foreign Service applicants, and not only in the State Department, but for all employees of the federal government abroad who have disabilities, records of disabilities, and perceived disabilities, and who must receive medical clearance through the Department’s Office of Medical Services. He noted that he has already filed other alleged class cases, also pending at the EEOC – one on behalf of applicants for limited term appointments (who need “post-specific” clearance, but are also denied individualized consideration), and another on behalf of employees associated with people with disabilities, who are denied the opportunity to be hired because of their family members who might need reasonable accommodations (or be perceived as disabled).

The Commission had also received an “Amicus Letter” from a consortium of more than 100 disability-related organizations urging the Commission to certify the class.

Read the full ruling at (pdf) Meyer v. Kerry (Dept. of State), EEOC Appeal No. 0720110007 from June 6, 2014 where the State Department contends that since this complaint was filed, the Office of Medical Services has changed many of its procedures in assessing “worldwide availability.”It also suggested that “many of those individuals who were found not worldwide available in 2006 maybe currently worldwide available under new definitions and procedures.”

The Commission, however, says that it “is not finding that changes made to the Medical Clearance process subsequent to the filing of the instant complaint have remedied any alleged discriminatory policy.”  

The order states (pdf): “It is the decision of the Commission to certify the class comprised of “all qualified applicants to the Foreign Service beginning on October 7, 2006, who were denied employment, or whose employment was delayed pending application for and receipt of a waiver, because the State Department deemed them not “world-wide available” due to their disability.”

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