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.

###

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

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

 

On May 9, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) enforcement efforts to combat workplace sexual harassment across the federal government, including the frequency of such claims and findings of harassment, the resources dedicated to preventing and redressing harassment, and the impact and efficacy of these enforcement efforts. The briefing also examined agency-level practices to address sexual harassment at the U.S. Department of State and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Commissioners heard from current and former government officials, academic and legal experts, advocates, and individuals who have experienced harassment.

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

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

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

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

The Commission says it routinely seeks public comments on the substance of its briefings. The public comment period is 30 days following the date of the hearing or briefing, unless provided otherwise.  Since the public briefing: “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces” occurred on May 9, the  Commission will accept written materials until June 10 for consideration as they prepare their report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 10, 2019 to sexualharassment@usccr.gov or by mail to: Staff Director/Public Comments, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, DC 20425.

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

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

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EEOC: Sex Discrimination and Reprisal Found in USAID Case

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

Complainant must satisfy a three-part evidentiary scheme to prevail on a claim of disparate treatment sex and reprisal discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, Complainant must establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that s/he was subjected to an adverse employment action under circumstances that would support an inference of discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Furnco Constr. Co. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 576 (1978). Second, the burden is on the Agency to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory, reason for its actions. Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).  Third, should the Agency carry its burden, Complainant must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the Agency were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804; St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993).”

Sex Discrimination & Reprisal Found.

Complainant, a Senior Fellow, filed an EEO complaint alleging that she was discriminated against based on sex (pregnancy), and reprisal, when her supervisor (S1) made disparaging remarks about her pregnancy; subjected her to increased scrutiny and reporting requirements related to her telework; required her to apply leave retroactively to dates and times when S1 knew she worked; terminated her alternate work schedule (AWS); and did not extend her fellowship. The Commission found that Complainant established a prima facie case of sex and reprisal discrimination, and then demonstrated that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination. Regarding Complainant’s telework reports, the record showed that she submitted extensive narratives, and clearly met the reporting requirements. Additionally, emails between Complainant and S1 showed that he knew she was working more than eight hours a day, but still asked her to take leave, and did not approve all her work hours. S1 stated that he denied Complainant an AWS due to a lack of coverage. However, the record showed that Complainant was meeting her work requirements, and that she was responsive and accountable while using workplace flexibilities. The Commission found that the Agency did not articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not renewing her fellowship because S1’s assertion that Complainant had performance problems was not supported by any documentation. Further, Complainant had shown pretext because management’s responses were inconsistent. Accordingly, the Commission concluded that the preponderance of the evidence supported Complainant’s claim that she was subjected to sex and reprisal discrimination. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with a fellowship, or similar position, with an opportunity to extend on a yearly basis (similar to other fellows); conduct a supplemental investigation to determine compensatory damages; and provide training to the responsible management officials. Reita M. v. Agency for Int’l Dev., EEOC Appeal No. 0120161608 (July 17, 2018).

EEOC Finds @StateDept’s Denial of Reasonable Accommodation and Disability Discrimination Unlawful

 

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

The federal government, including the Agency, is charged with being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities. See 29 C.F.R.  1614.203(a). Inherent in this duty is an obligation to break down artificial barriers which preclude individuals with disabilities from participating on an equal footing in the work force. Accordingly, the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make various types of “”reasonable accommodation” for federal employees who have disabilities. This requirement helps ensure that such federal employees will be able to perform the essential functions of their positions, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. See Appendix to Part 1630 – Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Appendix to Part 1630″), at Section 1630.2(o): Reasonable Accommodation.” (via)

Via ssa.gov

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Disability Discrimination Found.

Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging, among other things, that the Agency denied him reasonable accommodation, and discriminated against him based on his disability when it rated him “unsuccessful” on his performance evaluation. On appeal, the Commission found that the Agency failed to show that providing any of Complainant’s many requested reasonable accommodations would cause an undue hardship. The Agency’s broad rejections did not reflect the specificity required of an individualized assessment, nor a consideration of the factors comprising an undue hardship. Further, the Commission noted its concern with the Agency’s lack of participation in the interactive process. The Agency not only rejected Complainant’s numerous suggestions, but it failed to suggest any alternatives and blamed Complainant for the alleged breakdown in the interactive process. The Commission further found that Complainant’s “unsuccessful” rating was also discriminatory. While the record contained evidence of Complainant’s ongoing performance problems throughout the year, including numerous emails from his supervisor, the Commission observed that some of the emails followed Complainant’s requests for accommodation. Moreover, the major life activities that were impacted by Complainant’s PTSD, for which he was seeking a reasonable accommodation, were the same skills identified by management as needing improvement (i.e. focus, concentration, and avoiding distractions). Among other things, the Agency was ordered to immediately take all steps necessary in accordance with Commission regulations to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation; to rescind and expunge the unsuccessful rating; and to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s finding that Complainant failed to prove his claim of harassment. Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160352 (Feb. 22, 2018).

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Reprisal Discrimination Found.

Complainant, who had a mixed connective tissue disease, alleged she was denied a reasonable accommodation, and subjected to reprisal when the Agency included certain elements in her work commitments. Complainant requested to telework an additional day each week due to her extended commute and per her doctor’s recommendation. However, Complainant was placed on a new team with “face-to-face” and “physically available” commitments. On appeal, the Commission found that Complainant could perform essential function of her job with a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting. Complainant identified a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting two days a week and fully complied with Agency procedures. Rather than provide the requested accommodation, however, the Agency denied Complainant’s request, and only months later granted situational telework. The Commission found that this was ineffective, because Complainant’s condition merited consistent telework to address her symptoms and to prevent exacerbation of her condition. While Agency managers indicated that there was not sufficient work for Complainant to do while teleworking, no basis was shown for this assertion. The Commission cited significant issues with the manner in which the Agency engaged in the interactive process, including continuing to require further medical documentation despite the fact that the Agency already had the information in its possession. The Commission concluded that the Agency did not make a good faith effort to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation. The Commission also found that Complainant was subjected to reprisal when her work commitments were revised to include terms like “face to face” and “physically available.” The Commission noted the close temporal proximity between Complainant’s request for reasonable accommodation and the change in her work commitments, and stated that Complainant was the only employee impacted by the reassignment whose new commitments evinced a clear disapproval of telework. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the option of teleworking two days per week if she still occupied her position or a similar position, investigate Complainant’s claim for damages, and provide appropriate training for the responsible management officials. Alejandrina L. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120152145 (Nov. 16, 2017).

 

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EEOC Damages Increased in Two @StateDept Cases

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

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

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

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@StateDept’s Mandatory Harassment Training Overview (Video)

Posted: 3:17 am ET

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Posted: 2:36 am ET

 

Via eeoc.gov/vol 1/FY18:

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

Here is a quick summary of the case:

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

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

Posted: 1:31 am ET

 

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

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

 

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