Contact with Agency HR Personnel and Management Does Not Constitute EEO Contact

 

Via EEOC Takako Y. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2021000174:
Contact with Agency Human Resources Personnel and Management Does Not Constitute EEO Contact.  The Commission affirmed the Agency’s dismissal of Complainant’s complaint for failure to timely contact an EEO Counselor.  It was undisputed that Complainant made EEO contact more than 45 days after the alleged discriminatory incident.  While Complainant asserted that she contacted Human Resources, high-level managers, and Agency legal advisors within the time limitation, Complainant stated that she was seeking reconsideration of the Agency’s decision to terminate her candidacy for a specific position.  The record showed that she did not seek to begin the EEO process during that time, and the Commission has consistently held that utilizing other agency procedures does not toll the time limit for contacting an EEO Counselor.  The Commission also noted that Complainant did not specify if, or how, she was prevented from making EEO contact by the pandemic.  Therefore, the Commission found no justification for extending the 45-day limitation period.  Takako Y. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2021000174 (Jan. 22, 2021).
EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(1) requires that complaints of discrimination should be brought to the attention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor within forty-five (45) days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory or, in the case of personnel action, within
forty-five (45) days of the effective date of the action.


Here, it is undisputed that Complainant made EEO contact on July 29, 2020, which is more than 45 days after the alleged discriminatory incident. Complainant argues that she made contact with HR on March 13, 2020 and with high-level personnel and Agency legal advisors on May 12, 2020, regarding her candidacy termination due to age. We have consistently held that “a complainant may satisfy the criterion of Counselor contact by initiating [contact] to an agency official logically connected with the EEO process, even if that official is not an EEO Counselor.” Floyd v. National Guard Bureau, EEOC request No. 05890086 (June 22, 1989). Here, however, Complainant describes her March 13, 2020 HR communication and May 12, 2020 personnel and legal advisor communication as seeking reconsideration of the candidacy termination. The record shows that, while Complainant contacted individuals about reconsidering her candidacy termination, she did not seek EEO counseling to begin the EEO process until July 29, 2020. We also note that the Commission has consistently held that the utilization of agency procedures, union grievances, and other remedial processes does not toll the time limit for contacting an EEO Counselor. See Ellis v. United States Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 01992093 (November 29, 2000).
[…]
Additionally, Complainant argues that due to COVID-19 the 45-day time frame should be extended. However, Complainant does not state with any specificity if or how she was prevented from making EEO counselor contact by the pandemic. As such, we find no justification has been provided for extending the 45-day limitation period.

###

EEOC Denies Class Certification Claim Over @StateDept’s Promotion System

Via EEOC Appeal No. 2020005030
Class Certification Denied.  Complainant alleged that the Agency’s promotion system, while utilizing facially neutral annual selection boards, relied on subjective factors that manifest bias including “career promise,” mentor/mentee input, and relationship-forming potential.  Complainant asserted that the reliance on such subjective criteria negatively impacted the advancement of Foreign Service Officers over the age of 40.  The AJ denied class certification, and the Commission affirmed the decision on appeal.  The AJ found that Complainant failed to establish commonality and typicality.  Specifically, Complainant failed to establish how the use of the identified subjective criteria impacted those age 40 or older.  Not only did Complainant fail to provide evidence of the application of such allegedly discriminatory criteria to himself, but he also failed to provide evidence from other class members concerning how they were harmed by the use of such subjective criteria.  The AJ noted that while Complainant provided information in support of his claim of a statistically significant disparate impact on older workers seeking promotion, he failed to show how the use of the subjective criteria negatively affected other older Foreign Service Officers.  Further, the Agency applied other criteria when considering promotions including specific career paths, postings, discipline, and employee evaluation reports, which were applied to eligible Foreign Service officers “in direct competition with others of their skill code and grade.”  The Commission noted that Complainant failed to address the application of these other criteria in any way and failed to identify facts common to the class as a whole.”  The AJ further found that Complainant failed to meet the typicality requirement because he had unique circumstances, specifically a negative employee evaluation, which undermined his assertion that his claim was typical of the class.  The AJ found that the arguments Complainant made when grieving his 2014 evaluation regarding the importance of employee evaluation reports to his promotion prospects undercut his argument that promotions were based on subjective criteria.  Therefore, the AJ properly concluded that Complainant failed to establish the requirements for class certification.  The Commission remanded Complainant’s individual complaint for processing.  Ty S. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2020005030 (Dec. 14, 2020).
Details:

EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1614.204(a)(2) states that a class complaint is a written complaint of discrimination filed on behalf of a class by the agent of the class alleging that: (i) the class is so numerous that a consolidated complaint of the members of the class is impractical; (ii) there are questions of fact common to the class; (iii) the claims of the agent are typical of the claims of the class; and (iv) the agent of the class, or if represented, the representative will fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class. EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1614.204(d)(2) provides that a class complaint may be dismissed if it does not meet the four requirements of a class complaint or for any of the procedural grounds for dismissal set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107. The class agent, as the party seeking certification of the class, carries the burden of proof, and it is his obligation to  submit sufficient probative evidence to demonstrate satisfaction of the four regulatory criteria. Anderson, et al. v. Dep’t of Def., EEOC Appeal No. 01A41492 (Oct. 18, 2005).
[…]
…we find that the AJ properly concluded that Complainant failed to establish the commonality and typicality requirements for class certification. As such, we need not also address whether Complainant satisfies the numerosity and adequacy of representation requirements. We affirm the AJ’s decision to deny class certification in this case.

Click to access 2020005030%20DEC.pdf

 

###

 

EEOC Case: Middle Eastern FSO Alleges Discrimination, Raises “Unconscious Bias” Over Non-Promotion

 

EEOC Appeal No. 2020000559
At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant was employed by the Agency as a Foreign Service (“FS”) Officer, FS-04, (Political) at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

On December 7, 2018, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint alleging discrimination by the Agency on the bases of race (Middle Eastern), national origin (Iranian, naturalized U.S. Citizen), and religion (Muslim) when, on or about August 31, 2019, she learned that she was not promoted by the 2018 Foreign Service Selection Boards.
[…]

The record includes, but is not limited to, the following relevant facts:

Promotions for FSOs, such as Complainant, are determined by Selection Boards (also referred to as the Promotion Board or “Board”) comprised of volunteer reviewers from within the Agency. In 2018, it was established Agency practice for all reviewers to undergo two days of training on relevant software, and how to impartially evaluate an employee based on their awards and duty posts from the past five years, the employee’s electronic Official Personnel Files (“eOPF” or “file”), and their EER (review). The volunteers are instructed to recuse themselves if they feel they are unable to review a file objectively. During the 2018 training, the volunteers were briefed by the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights about diversity with a focus on “ensuring the Board applied the Department’s EEO principles in its deliberations and decisions.”
[..]

The promotion review was on a “class-wide basis,” so all FS-04 candidates within the same specialty were reviewed by the same Board. Thus, the Board reviewing Complainant and other FS-04s was responsible for reviewing more than 875 files within 10 weeks, or 34 to 40 employee
files per day. When asked to provide affidavits for the instant complaint, none of the panelists recognized Complainant’s name or specifically recalled the contents of her employee file.


Complainant maintains that she was qualified and deserving of a promotion based on her accomplishments, and submits copies of her EERs from 2011 to 2018, a Superior Honor Award
(2011), a Letter of Commendation (2012), two Meritorious Honor Awards (2016 and 2018) and the highest language score among her cohort of Turkish language students (2017) and service above grade in three out of four assignments. While Complainant concedes, “I do not have information from which I can assess whether my performance was superior to those selected,” Complainant asserts that her “track record in multiple positions senior my grade, my awards, and my EERs, I am on par with those promoted.”

Complainant contends that, at the time of her 2018 non-selection, “unconscious bias” was a known obstacle to achieving awards and promotions within the Agency’s selection process. She states that at least two affinity groups, Executive Women at State and Balancing Act, had been trying to raise the issue of unconscious bias with respect to the scoring process. The Union surveyed employees in 2017 and identified strong support for removing names from EERs (reviews). Regarding this survey, Complainant states that “individuals like me, with different ethnically identifiable names, almost unanimously found fault with the Agency’s practice of including names in the EERs.”
[..]

Significantly, Complainant argues that the Agency, in both investigating and deciding her case, disregarded her allegations of “unconscious bias,” instead applying a disparate treatment analysis to her allegations. It is clear from the record that Complainant was attempting to raise a disparate impact claim, as she repeatedly clarified in her affidavit that she did not believe the Panel intentionally discriminated against her, instead, describing herself as the victim of unconscious bias as a result of the Agency practice of promotion boards knowing the names of the candidates they were reviewing.

Complainant challenges the Agency’s policy of allowing reviewers for FS promotions to see the employees’ first and last names, arguing that a candidate’s name could trigger implicit bias by the reviewer. As evidence of bias against individuals of Middle Eastern dissent, Complainant cites FBI data revealing a 67% increase in hate-based incidents against Muslim Americans in 2015, the highest since the aftermath of September 11, 2001. She also cites the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which, based on media tracking, found an exponential increase in hate-based attacks. She recalls the “Muslim Ban,” where the President called first for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” later modified to “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants. Moreover, Complainant argues that even if all of the panelists did not realize her name was of Middle Eastern origin specifically, “it is impossible for someone not to know that I am from a specific minority group . . . and that I am likely from the Middle East with a high probability that I am Muslim.”
[…]

In the present case, as a result of the Agency’s investigation’s sole focus on disparate treatment, the record is not sufficiently developed to determine whether Complainant can establish even a prima facie case of disparate impact.3 We have presented some of the details of our prior analysis in Gwendolyn G. to provide Complainant and the Agency with guidance in determining the sort of evidence necessary to determine a disparate impact case of this sort. We are vacating the Agency’s final decision and remanding this matter to the Agency for further investigation relevant to the disparate impact claim.

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we hereby VACATE the Agency’s Final Decision (with the exception of affirming the timeliness dismissal of promotion claims prior to 2018) and REMAND the matter for further processing in accordance with the following Order.

ORDER
1. Within one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days of the date this decision is issued, the Agency shall conduct a supplemental investigation addressing Complainant’s claim of discrimination under the disparate impact theory and issue an updated ROI to Complainant.
2. Among other things, the updated ROI shall contain the necessary statistical data to allow a decision maker to determine whether Complainant can establish a prima facie case of disparate impact analysis discussed above with respect to individuals with Middle Eastern names, as well as individuals with names that could be mistakenly identified as Middle Eastern. Evidence shall also be gathered with regard to the Agency’s justification for the challenged practice.
3. Within sixty (60) calendar days of the completion of the supplemental investigation, the Agency shall issue a new FAD to Complainant with appeal rights to this Commission. The FAD shall contain a thorough analysis of Complainant’s complaint under disparate impact theory.
The Agency is further directed to submit a report of compliance in digital format as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.” The report shall include a copy of the new ROI and FAD with appeal rights, and it shall be submitted via the Federal Sector EEO Portal (FedSEP). See 29 C.F.R. § 1614.403(g).
###

EEOC: @StateDept Liable For Compensatory Damages “because it has not shown it acted in good faith”

 

Via EEOC: Jona R. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182063 (Jan. 23, 2020).
Denial of Reasonable Accommodation Found.
Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of disability when she was not provided with a reasonable accommodation of situational telework as her medical circumstances required.  Complainant had been teleworking for several years, but her telework agreement expired.  According to the record, Agency managers repeatedly asked Complainant to resubmit her request or provide additional information over a period of several months.  Approximately six months after Complainant requested accommodation, the Agency informed Complainant that she could telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and would have a one-hour window to report her duty station to her supervisor on those days.  The Commission found that the Agency discriminated against Complainant when it did not approve her request for situational telework.  The Agency acknowledged that Complainant was a qualified individual with a disability.  Complainant demonstrated that she needed to be able to telework when she experienced symptoms related to her condition, and these symptoms occurred without notice and were not limited to the three days specified.  Therefore, the Agency’s offer, which was essentially the same telework schedule Complainant had before she requested reasonable accommodation, was not an effective accommodation.
The Commission found that the Agency failed to prove it would have been an undue hardship to allow Complainant to telework when her medical conditions warranted.  The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the ability to situationally telework, restore any lost leave or pay, and investigate her claim for compensatory damages.

More details:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a GS12 Administrative Assistant within the Agency’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Secretary’s Protective Detail, in Washington, D.C. In this position, Complainant primarily provides operational planning and coordination for the Secretary’s Protective Detail and administrative, logistical, procurement, and financial support for the Detail. On September 13, 2013, a new manager became Complainant’s direct supervisor (S1) .

Complainant has been diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, Neuropathy, Anxiety, Depression, and Autonomic Neuropathy. Because of these conditions, Complainant sometimes experiences dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, abnormal perspiration, a lack of bladder/bowel control, vomiting, nausea, and pain in her hands and feet.
[…]
Complainant has teleworked since 2009 and last signed a telework agreement on June 28, 2012 that expired on June 29, 2013. The June 2012 to June 2013 agreement allowed Complainant to telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
[…]

Consequently, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). In its final decision, the Agency found that Complainant was a qualified individual with a disability. Nevertheless, the Agency concluded that Complainant did not prove she was denied a reasonable  accommodation for her disability. Specifically, the Agency determined that Complainant did not submit any documentation to support her October 29, 2013 request for situational telework. Regarding Complainant’s January 2, 2014 request for fulltime telework, the Agency determined  that it provided Complainant with an effective reasonable accommodation by offering her the ability to telework three times per week.

The Agency concluded that Complainant’s medical documentation did not support her request for fulltime telework, and she would have been best accommodated through a combination of telework and sick leave. Additionally, the Agency concluded that fulltime telework would have imposed an undue hardship on the Agency because: her position required training and periodic meetings in the office; trip planners were not able to follow all information given via telephone calls; Complainant’s workload had increased by 135 percent; and Complainant had demonstrated an  inability to follow proper procedures for reporting her duty station and work status while teleworking.
[…]
The Agency concluded that it provided Complainant with an effective reasonable accommodation when it offered her telework three times per week. However, as Complainant points out, the Agency only offered to allow Complainant to telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,  which is essentially the same telework schedule Complainant had before she requested reasonable accommodation. However, Complainant disclosed she needed to telework when she experienced symptoms related to her condition that impacted her ability to commute and work in the office. These symptoms often occurred without significant notice and were not restricted to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Therefore, if Complainant experienced symptoms that impacted her ability to commute or work in the office on Tuesdays or Thursdays, the telework agreement would not have provided her with a reasonable accommodation for her medical conditions. The Agency’s offer of telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays was not an effective accommodation because it did not meet Complainant’s need for flexible, situational telework as needed.
[…]
Hence, we find that the Agency failed to provide Complainant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability when it did not approve her for situational telework. See Jody L. v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 0120151351 (Jan. 17, 2018) (agency violated the Rehabilitation Act when it denied Complainant with Paralysis the option of working from home on days when the temperature is below negative twenty degrees.). In so finding, we remind the Agency that the federal government is charged with the goal of being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities, which may require it to consider innovation, fresh approaches, and technology as effective methods of providing reasonable accommodations. Rowlette v. Social Security Administration, EEOC Appeal No. 01A10816 (Aug. 1, 2003); 29 C.F.R. §1614.203(a). We believe that providing Complainant with this reasonable accommodation furthers this goal.

An agency is not liable for compensatory damages under the Rehabilitation Act where it has consulted with complainant and engaged in good faith efforts to provide a reasonable accommodation but has fallen short of what is legally required. See Teshima v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC Appeal No. 01961997 (May 5, 1998). In this case, the Agency was aware that Complainant needed situational telework because of her medical conditions, and the Agency did not show providing Complainant with telework as needed would have imposed an undue hardship. Moreover, Complainant made the Agency aware that its offer of telework on an inflexible, rigid basis did not meet her medical needs. Consequently, we find that the Agency is liable for Complainant’s compensatory damages because it has not shown it acted in good faith in accommodating Complainant.

###

EEOC: Sexual Harassment Compensatory Damage Award After a 7-Year Saga

 

 

Via EEOC Nancey D. v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal 2019005600:
Commission Increased AJ’s Compensatory Damage Award to $100,000.
The AJ found that Complainant’s supervisor subjected her to sexual harassment, including instances of unwanted touching, inappropriate comments, and requests for dates and sex.  As relief, the AJ, among other things, awarded Complainant $80,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages.  The Commission increased the award to $100,000 on appeal, noting that amount was more consistent with amounts awarded in similar cases.  The record showed that Complainant was diagnosed with PTSD and Severe Depression as a result of her supervisor’s sexual harassment over a three-year period.  Complainant underwent treatment for these conditions including medication and counseling.  Complainant testified that she suffered humiliation, anger, panic attacks, withdrawal, weight fluctuation, migraines, erratic sleeping patterns, and frequent crying spells.   The Commission concurred with the  AJ that the weight of the evidence adequately tied the harm directly to the harassment.  The Commission affirmed the AJ’s award of $2,877 in past pecuniary damages, and $2,500 in future pecuniary damages.  Nancey D. v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal 2019005600 (Sept. 14, 2020).
This is a DOJ/Bureau of Prisons sexual harassment case. We are highlighting it here to point out that a 7-year saga awarded a $100,000 in compensation amounts to $39 a day in damages.
That’s $91.32 day for each day in the 3-year period the individual was subjected to harassment by her supervisor.

This case was originally filed on June 21, 2013, when Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint claiming that she was repeatedly harassed on the bases of her race (African-American), sex (female), and in reprisal for prior protected EEO activity when she was subjected to sexual comments, gestures, and emails, as well as rumors of a sexual nature.

On August 7, 2019, the Agency issued a final order fully adopting the AJ’s decision and award of remedies.

On appeal, Complainant, through counsel, requests an increase in the damage awards. Specifically, Complainant requests $34,854.36 in past pecuniary damages (covering past prescriptions and counseling) and $16,000 in future pecuniary damages (covering future counseling sessions). Complainant reasons that her award for past pecuniary and future pecuniary damages should have included the full price for the medical expenses and not limited to the co-payments for the medical expenses. Regarding her request for an increase in non-pecuniary damages, Complainant reasons that the AJ’s $80,000 award should be increased to $100,000 to conform with the Commission’s prior damages decisions at the present-day value. Alternatively, Complainant argues that her nonpecuniary damages award should be increased to $190,000 to compensate for sexual harassment she endured from 1998 to 2010 during the period that she and AW were co-workers. Therefore, Complainant argues that the AJ incorrectly limited her sexual harassment claims to the period that AW was her supervisor and did not account for AW’s sexually-charged conduct that occurred twelve years before 2010.

 

###

EEOC Reasonable Accommodation Case Gets Damage Award of $50K

 

Via EEOC Appeal 2019003637 (June 16, 2020):
Commission Increased Award of Damages to $50,000.
The Agency found that Complainant was denied reasonable accommodation, and awarded him $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages.   The Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal.  The Commission found that Complainant’s pre-existing knee injury was aggravated when the Agency denied Complainant access to a closer parking lot and required that he walk up a steep hill to and from his building even though his work restrictions on file limited his walking and restricted him from climbing steep hills.  The Commission considered statements from Complainant’s wife and two coworkers, who indicated that Complainant’s behavior changed following the denial of accommodation.  These individuals noted Complainant was no longer a “happy-go-lucky guy,” had sleepless nights, became disengaged from his family, and was a “different person” after the discrimination.  The Commission concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support an award of $50,000, which was consistent with awards in similar cases.  The Commission affirmed the Agency’s denial of past pecuniary damages finding that Complainant had not provided any documentation to support his purported personal costs associated with the discrimination.  Lowell H. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal 2019003637 (June 16, 2020).
Details below from EEOC Appeal:

During the period at issue, Complainant worked as a Motor Vehicle Operator, GS-8, at the Agency’s Operations Division in Washington, D.C.

On January 3, 2018, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint claiming that the Agency discriminated against him based on disability (torn left medical collateral ligament (MCL) in left knee, torn left rotator cuff and left toe)2 when:

1. Complainant was denied a reasonable accommodation;

2. on August 17, 2017, Complainant received a memo regarding disciplinary action;

3. on September 20, 2017, Complainant received a Letter of Warning; and

4. Complainant was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to heightened scrutiny regarding his requests for leave, inappropriate language, and yelling.

Complainant was diagnosed with these conditions following a December 17, 2016 work-related injury. The injuries restricted Complainant to driving no more than four hours a day, limited Complainant’s use of his left arm to handle luggage, and limited walking to no more than twenty-five feet (including no climbing of steep hills).

On November 7, 2018, following an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision concluding that Complainant had established a failure to accommodate his disability in connection with parking privileges, the approval of leave requests, and the issuance of a letter of warning. For relief, the Agency ordered, among other remedies, a supplemental investigation into his claim for compensatory damages.

On April 10, 2019, the Agency issued a final decision on compensatory damages. The Agency rejected Complainant’s request for $300,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. Instead, the Agency awarded Complainant $2,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. In reaching this amount, the Agency reasoned that Complainant did not provide sufficient evidence to support that he suffered any long or short term physical or mental harm due to being denied his preferred parking arrangement, denied consideration of his leave requests, or being issued attendance-related discipline. With respect to his parking assignment, the Agency noted that Complainant indicated that his parking assignment at Navy Hill “aggravated” his pre-existing knee injury, without explaining the extent or type of aggravation he experienced. The Agency also disputed Complainant’s claim that he missed “a few sessions of therapy,” and indicated that the Agency’s November 7, 2018 decision only determined that Complainant was denied leave for one medical appointment. Finally, the Agency indicated that Complainant’s request for $300,000 is more akin to a request for punitive damages, even though punitive damages are not permitted on a federal-sector complaint.

The Agency awarded $2,000 in nonpecuniary damages. We find, however, that that an award of $50,000 is more consistent with the amounts awarded in similar cases.

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EEOC: Challenge to @StateDept’s Mandatory Retirement as Violation of the ADEA Fails

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

 

Via EEOC Appeal No. 2020000116 (PDF)
DECISION:

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

BACKGROUND:

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

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

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

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

###

 

EEOC Just Reversed an Asian American Employee’s Harassment Complaint Dismissed by @StateDept

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

 

In EEOC Appeal No. 2021001898, Complainant appealed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or “Commission”) the State Department’s January 7, 2021 dismissal of his complaint alleging 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. The unnamed complainant works at the Office of Language Services within the Bureau of Administration, one of the 13 offices under the Under Secretary for Management.
Below from the EEOC decision dated April 19, 2021:

Complainant is an Asian American, who immigrated from the People’s Republic of China. Complainant alleged that one of his subordinates harassed him on the bases of his race (Asian) and national origin (Chinese) by engaging in various types of unwelcome conduct, including, but not limited to:

      • disparaging Chinese immigrants;
      • mocking Complainant’s language and communication skills due to his perceived foreign accent; and
      • interfering with work performance by engaging in efforts to subordinate Complainant, such as regularly skipping meetings, walking out on meetings just as Complainant was starting to talk, not doing assignments, finishing assignments late, not acknowledging Complainant’s emails, and trying to bypass Complainant’s authority by attempting to report directly to Complainant’s superiors.

Complainant also alleged that his supervisors were aware of this subordinate’s unwelcome conduct but failed to effectively stop it. Assuming the allegations of the subordinate’s unwelcome conduct to be true, was the subordinate’s conduct sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of Complainant’s employment such that Complainant stated an actionable claim of discriminatory harassment in violation of Title VII?

Background:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant was employed by the Agency as a Branch Chief and Supervisory Diplomatic Interpreter, GS-15, at the Agency’s Office of Operations, Office of Language Services, Non-European Language Branch, in Washington, D.C.

On July 10, 2020, Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint alleging that he was subjected to ongoing harassment/a hostile work environment on the bases of race (Asian) and national origin (Chinese) by one of his subordinates. Complainant further alleged that management officials were aware of the harassment but failed to adequately address it.

The subordinate was assigned to Complainant’s branch on February 3, 2020, after completing a 15-year stint at the Agency’s U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China. Complainant and his supervisors, the Division Chief and the Office Director, were already familiar with the subordinate, whose employment with the Agency dated back to the 1980s.

In his EEO complaint, Complainant alleged that, during the relevant time frame, the Division Chief and the Office Director were aware of several, if not all, of the subordinate’s alleged harassing actions, which included:
[…]
4. Beginning February 3, 2020, and ongoing, the subordinate regularly attempted to report directly to the Division Chief and Office Director instead of Complainant, disregarding their repeated instructions that he report through his line of supervision.

5. Beginning February 3, 2020, and ongoing, nearly all of the subordinate’s communication toward Complainant was disrespectful, such as “very rude emails.”

6. Beginning February 3, 2020, and ongoing, the subordinate continuously thwarted Complainant’s supervision by, among other things, seldom acknowledging Complainant’s emails, ignoring deadlines, and deliberately failing to satisfactorily complete assignments.

7. Between February 3, 2020 and July 10, 2020, the subordinate attended four out of the 40 meetings Complainant hosted or co-hosted as the Branch Chief, and in at least one instance (a Branch-wide staff meeting Complainant called for March 9, 2020), the subordinate made a point of leaving the office in front of Complainant’s other subordinates when the staff meeting was about to start.

8. The subordinate made fun of Complainant’s phrasing in an email he sent requesting an assignment from the subordinate, even though the phrasing, the result of Complainant’s non-native English, did not impact the content of the message.

9. The subordinate pretended not to understand Complainant’s pronunciation of the phrase “Go Virtual” and asked him to repeat himself multiple times in a manner that made Complainant self-conscious and uncomfortable.

10. From March 17, 2020 through July 10, 2020, the subordinate completed only two of the 10 assignments Complainant had given him despite Complainant’s emails and extensions.

11. On July 8, 2020, during a phone meeting about the subordinate’s Mid-Year Review, the subordinate parsed Complainant’s words, such as “work” and “assignment,” and then told Complainant, “you need to improve your English and learn how to make yourself clearer in the future.”

12. On July 8, 2020, during the Mid-Year Review phone meeting, the subordinate revealed that he was aware that Complainant had initiated an EEO complaint, accused Complainant of playing “the race card”, and told Complainant, “don’t play that game with me.”

The EEOC decision notes that in its final decision, the State Department dismissed the complaint, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1), for failure to state a claim. “In summary fashion, the Agency determined the alleged conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to state a viable claim of harassment in violation of Title VII.”
EEOC findings determine that there is a viable claim of discriminatory harassment:

After careful review of the record, we determine that the allegations in this complaint, taken together, state a viable claim of discriminatory harassment. Nearly all of the alleged harassing incidents occurred on or after February 3, 2020, within the supervisor/subordinate relationship between Complainant and the subordinate, which involved frequent interaction and directly impacted Complainant’s work performance. As for the allegations of events that occurred before Complainant became the subordinate’s supervisor, they can be considered as additional evidence in support of Complainant’s overall harassment claim.

The EEOC notes that the “Severity or Pervasiveness of Subordinate’s Alleged Harassing Conduct” is  generally actionable “if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment.” Also that the severity or pervasiveness may be determined, in part, by examining management’s responses to the alleged harassment.

Complainant has alleged that his supervisors were aware of the subordinate’s harassing conduct towards him but failed to effectively stop it. In fact, Complainant alleged that the harassing behavior of the subordinate continued without abatement through the filing of his complaint.

A complainant may demonstrate the necessary severity or pervasiveness to state a harassment claim by alleging that the harassing actions unreasonably interfered with his or her work performance. 2 In cases involving subordinate harassment, the impact on work performance typically manifests itself by reducing the complainant’s effectiveness as a supervisor or undermining the complainant’s credibility or authority in the eyes of other subordinates or coworkers. See, e.g., Opal; Gilberto S. v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 0120151198 (Mar. 11, 2016). Here, Complainant alleged that the subordinate continually undermined his authority as a supervisor, including with other employees witnessing his conduct. Taking Complainant’s allegations together and assuming them to be true, we determine that the subordinate essentially refused to recognize Complainant as his supervisor, which unreasonably and directly interfered with Complainant’s work performance. For example, Complainant alleged that the subordinate continually reported to Complainant’s supervisors instead of Complainant, rarely acknowledged Complainant’s emails or satisfactorily completed assignments, attended only four out of 40 meetings Complainant hosted or co-hosted during the relevant time frame, and completed only two out of 10 assignments.
[…]
According to Complainant, these alleged harassing acts drained Complainant’s time, as he describes sending “dozens” of emails to try and get the subordinate to complete his assignments. Complainant alleged that the subordinate’s conduct impacted Complainant’s own productivity and effectiveness, as well as the morale of the team. See, e.g., Opal; Gilberto S. v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 0120151198 (Mar. 11, 2016).

The subordinate’s alleged behavior occurred in the context of a nation-wide increase in reports of harassment against Asian Americans. 5 Asian American workers face multiple sources of discrimination. One source is language or accent discrimination. Perceptions of Asian accents may negatively affect the communication skills and perceived competence of Asian American workers. […] Another source of discrimination is the perception of Asian Americans as “forever foreign.” Perceptions of Asian Americans as foreign can negatively impact assessments of communication ability, competence and, importantly, trustworthiness. Id.

The EEOC decision says that “if proven true, we conclude that the actions alleged by Complainant are sufficiently severe and pervasive to state a viable claim of discriminatory harassment on the bases of race (Asian) and national origin (Chinese) that requires investigation and further processing.”
The EEOC also brings up reprisal: “Although Complainant did not raise reprisal as a basis for discrimination in his complaint, the harassment described in allegation 12, on its face, could be found reasonably likely to deter Complainant or others from engaging in protected activity.

In the context of a contentious hour-long phone meeting, where he already made derogatory remarks about Complainant’s English proficiency, S1 notified Complainant that he was aware of Complainant’s EEO activity. The phrase, “don’t play that game with me,” and accusation of “playing the race card” in reference to Complainant’s EEO activity were stated in a manner that that could be found reasonably likely to deter EEO activity. There is no evidence that management took any steps to prevent or address the retaliatory conduct, which, along with S1’s apparently cordial relationship with Complainant’s supervisors, further supports that these statements, while made by a subordinate, state a viable claim of retaliation.

The EEOC reversed the State Department’s final decision which dismissed the Complainant’s complaint and remanded the case to the Agency for “further processing” in accordance with its decision and Order:

ORDER (E0618) The Agency is ordered to process the remanded complaint in accordance with 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108 et seq. The Agency shall acknowledge to the Complainant that it has received the remanded claims within thirty (30) calendar days of the date this decision was issued. The Agency shall issue to Complainant a copy of the investigative file and also shall notify Complainant of the appropriate rights within one hundred fifty (150) calendar days of the date this decision was issued, unless the matter is otherwise resolved prior to that time. If the Complainant requests a final decision without a hearing, the Agency shall issue a final decision within sixty (60) days of receipt of Complainant’s request. As provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision,” the Agency must send to the Compliance Officer: 1) a copy of the Agency’s letter of acknowledgment to Complainant, 2) a copy of the Agency’s notice that transmits the investigative file and notice of rights, and 3) either a copy of the complainant’s request for a hearing, a copy of complainant’s request for a FAD, or a statement from the agency that it did not receive a response from complainant by the end of the election period.

The full decision is available here. Note that 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.

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Oh Where, Oh Where Are the EEOC Posting Orders For Agency Discrimination?

According to the State Department, the mission of the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) (https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/bureaus-and-offices-reporting-directly-to-the-secretary/office-of-civil-rights/) is “to propagate fairness, equity and inclusion at the Department of State. S/OCR’s business is conflict resolution, employee and supervisor assistance, and diversity management. S/OCR manages the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) administrative process for the Department and works to prevent employment discrimination through outreach and training.”
When an employee prevails in a complaint before the EEOC, the federal agency where the discrimination occured is typically ordered by the EEOC to post copies of the notice of discrimination signed by the agency’s authorized representative. It’s kind of an equivalent to a student being ordered by his/her teacher to write on the entire blackboard “I will not [INSERT] again.”  The EEOC normally requires that the notice be posted in the facility in hard copy and electronic copy.
Click here for the EEOC order posted by Energy Department’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.  Here is one from USPS. Another one from the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. The orders have one thing in common, an acknowledgement by the agency’s authorized representative that the facility was determined by the EEOC to have engaged in discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any other form discrimination. The notice does not specifically include the names of the complainant, only a quick summary of the case and the remedy ordered by the EEOC.
Not too many State Department cases prevail at the EEOC but when they do, we expect to see the posting orders visible in public and easily accessible to everyone. We have yet to see them anywhere. We have never, ever seen them posted on the pretty bare bones page of S/OCR on state.gov.  If they are posted on the Intranet SBU site only, is that the best that the State Department’s office tasked with preventing employment discrimination can do? Wouldn’t you want everybody to see it so folks learn from it and do not repeat the same behavior elsewhere in the organization?
For example, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation’s EEOC-ordered Notice says:

“This facility was found to have violated the Rehabilitation Act. The facility was ordered to reinstate the employee, provide reasonable accommodation for his disability, determine backpay and benefits, as well as compensatory damages and attorney’s fees and costs. The facility was also ordered to consider taking disciplinary action against management officials and provide training to responsible management official’s regarding their responsibilities under EEO law.”

In January 2018, the EEOC ordered the State Department to post such a notice at FSI (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).  We’d like to know if anyone saw the paper copy or electronic copy of that EEOC order posted at FSI’s School of Language Studies? Is it archived? (Update 11/16/20 9:40 pm PST: A senior official who was at FSI during this time confirmed to us that this order was posted “on the bulletin board directly outside the entrance to the Dean’s office suite” and that it stayed up for a couple of months. Thanks Senior Official A!). 
Folks, we need your help locating these posting orders. Where are they posted? At S/OCR’s bulletin board? At their Intranet page? How visible are these notices? Are they accessible by GO browser or any other browser or do you need a special key to get into a room to read these notices?

U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20507

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES POSTED BY ORDER OF THE EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION
An Agency of the United States Government

This Notice is posted pursuant to an order by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dated ___________________ which found that a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., has occurred at the Department of State’s offices in Washington, District of Columbia (hereinafter this facility).

Federal law requires that there be no discrimination against any employee or applicant for employment because of the person’s RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, or DISABILITY with respect to hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, or other terms, conditions or privileges of employment. This facility was found to have engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex/female with respect to a promotion matter, constituting a violation of Title VII.
/snip/

How @StateDept Handles Domestic Violence Overseas: One Example and Some Questions

 

In the many years that we’ve watched the State Department, or asked questions about assaults, harassment, or domestic violence, we seldom see a public accounting of how the agency handles these cases, particularly overseas.  State had such a case in 2018. And we’re only seeing it now because the case landed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC case came from a complainant who was previously assigned to an overseas post in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).
On November 7, 2018, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency [State Department] subjected him to discrimination and a hostile work environment/harassment on the basis of sex (male), status as a parent, and in retaliation for “whistleblower activity”. The EEOC notes that “With respect to Complainant’s allegations on appeal of violations of the U.S. Constitution, whistleblower protection laws, criminal laws, and tortious laws not addressed by EEO laws, these laws are not within the purview of the EEO complaint process.”.
The State Department concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination as alleged. On March 13, 2020, the EEOC issued a decision which affirmed the Agency’s final decision. Excerpt from Appeal No. 2019005790:
The Agency accepted the complaint as to the alleged basis of sex and conducted an investigation, which produced the following pertinent facts:
Complainant was assigned to the Agency’s facility [/], accompanied by his spouse (“Spouse”) (female) and children. He and his family resided in U.S. government-supplied housing.
On September 21, 2018, Spouse reported an incident of domestic violence to the Deputy Regional Security Officer (Deputy RSO), alleging Complainant assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred on September 9, 2018, while they were on vacation in Poland. Deputy RSO attested that, based on Spouse’s report, it was reasonable to believe that domestic violence had occurred, and he reported the situation to the front office and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), as required by Agency policy.
The Agency’s Family Advisory Team (FAT) was advised of Spouse’s report of domestic violence and they recommended that, in the best interest of the family, Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period. One factor in the decision was Spouse’s comment that she was afraid of Complainant’s finding out that she made the report. Members of the FAT recommended the separation out of concern for further violence, without a determination as to the veracity of Spouse’s allegations, until a decision could be made as to the next steps. The Deputy Chief of Mission instructed that Complainant be removed from the residence, pending further deliberations by the FAT.
On September 21, 2018, Deputy RSO and two other Agency employees went to the residence Complainant shared with his Spouse and their children and informed Complaint that he was being relocated to a hotel. Complainant and Spouse were instructed not to contact each other until a decision was made about the alleged domestic violence incident. Complainant cooperated and was escorted to a hotel.
On September 25, 2018, Complainant reported to Deputy RSO that Spouse was the aggressor in the domestic violence incident. Deputy RSO instructed Complainant to communicate with OSI, as they had jurisdiction.
In the instant complaint, Complainant alleged sex was a factor because he was required to leave the residence, while Spouse remained in the home with their children.
On September 26, 2018, Complainant met with a Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Agency security personnel and was informed that he must immediately leave the post and return to the United States. He was given the choice of voluntary or involuntary curtailment. He was informed that the issues facing his family could not be addressed locally and resources were not available to manage his family situation. Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline. He also attested that he selected voluntary curtailment because, even though he was the victim of Spouse’s assault, he did not believe he would have any support at the post.
HRO explained that when there is a conflict between two members of a household and one or more of the individuals are direct hires, the Agency policy is to curtail the direct hire. She further explained that this approach is preferred as there is an unwillingness to involve the local police in a potential domestic violence situation. She explained that the post cannot adjudicate claims and make a determination, as that authority rests with OSI. She explained that the post has no authority to require a family member of a direct hire to leave the country and the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.
The Deputy Chief of Mission attested that she made the decision to curtail Complainant, as this was the third occasion of serious behavioral incidents involving Complainant since he arrived, less than a year ago and, based on the advice from FAT, she instructed that he be given a choice of voluntary or involuntary.
On September 28, 2018, Complainant returned to the United States. Spouse and their children remained behind to pack their belongings and arrived in the United States on October 17, 2018.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Complainant was informed by Diplomatic Security that an update for approval of his security clearance had been initiated “for cause.” Complainant’s security clearance was not scheduled to expire until June 2021. Complainant alleged that the review of his security clearance was initiated by the post to support their decision to remove him from [post].
The Office Director of DS/SI/PSS explained that he was, in part, responsible for the investigation and adjudication of security clearances for the Department and Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports received from a Diplomatic Security investigation alleging potential misconduct. He explained that the investigation was “for cause,” non-routine, and pursuant to regulations.
With respect to the alleged harassment, Complainant attested that, on November 7, 2018, the Agency notified him that he was the subject of an administrative inquiry into allegations that he was a harasser.
He explained that he learned that, during a social setting, he made a comment about Spouse that might have been considered a distasteful joke but did not rise to the level of harassment. He also alleged that, during a meeting with the American Foreign Service Association and Human Resources, a Human Resources representative asked him when he anticipated retiring.
[…]
The Agency explained that, following Spouse’s report of domestic violence, the Agency felt it in the best interest of the family that Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period, pending a determination as to what steps were next. The Agency further explained that there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters. The Agency explained that in such situations involving a direct hire employee and an accompanying spouse, it is the Agency’s policy to curtail the direct hire, which would then cause the spouse and family to be required to vacate the government-supplied housing. The Agency also explained that Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports of alleged potential misconduct. We note that, although Complainant and Spouse disagree as to who initiated the domestic violence, Complainant does not deny that the domestic violence occurred. We find the Agency’s actions of separating the spouses, sending the employee back to the United States, and subjecting him to another security investigation to be reasonable under these circumstances. Therefore, although Complainant has alleged discrimination, he has not established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons articulated by the Agency were a pretext for unlawful discrimination or motivated by some unlawful discriminatory animus with respect to any of these claims.
The links to the related regs are below. In this case, State told the EEOC that “there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters.” And yet, 3 FAM 1815.2 says:

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following: (1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases; […] (5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children.

Seriously though, why are these options decorating the FAM if they are never real options? In certain cases? Which cases would there be a willingness for post to call upon local authorities to settle a domestic violence case?
Perhaps the most striking thing here — well, a couple of things. 1) “Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline”; and 2) the Agency’s point that “the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.”
And then what?
The spouse and children returns to the United States. To where actually? To get back with the spouse? To a halfway house? To a homeless shelter? What actually happens to the family upon return to the United States following a report of domestic violence overseas? Folks do not always have houses in the DC area, spouses may be foreign born with no families in the DC area. In most cases, the household effects and those on storage are also under the employee’s name only (unless the spouse made prior arrangements).
So what happens next? Could ‘what happens next’ be one of the main reasons why folks do not report these cases?  

Related items:
3 FAM 1810 FAMILY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT, AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE)
3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE