Hill v. Pompeo: An African-American DS Agent, Offensive Baboon Gear, and a Removal From Leadership Position

This is a Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lawsuit involving an African-American Special Agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security who joined the State Department in 2002. In September 2013, he joined State’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD). Excerpt below from the May 31, 2020 Memorandum of Opinion by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
Summary:
Viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to Hill, it alleges facts to support all three elements of this type of race discrimination claim. First, it alleges that “Hill and Whitaker were the only African American Team 2 members and that the Caucasian Team members had been complaining about them, admitting they did not respect them, and requesting transfers to get away from them since the month after Hill took over as Team Leader.” Compl. ¶ 118. The complaint enumerates multiple instances where the Caucasian team members complained about Hill, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, and sought his removal from his leadership position, see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 45, 46, 49. And the ongoing dispute over the Caucasian team members’ use of the baboon logo and their joking references behind Hill’s back to the baboon logo as “racist,” id. ¶ 19, give rise to a reasonable inference that the Caucasian team members’ treatment of Hill was racially discriminatory. Second, “State admits it removed Hill based on the complaints from the Caucasian Team 2 members, making their complaints the proximate cause of the actions taken against Hill.” Id. ¶ 117. Third and finally, a fair inference can be drawn that Collura and Rowan, Hill’s supervisors, should have known that the Caucasian team members’ complaints were racially motivated. See id. ¶ 120. The complaint alleges: (1) a clear fissure between Hill and Whitaker and the Caucasian team members from the very start of Hill’s tenure, see id. ¶¶ 19–29; (2) that Hill complained to his supervisors about team members defying his order not to use the racially offensive baboon logo, see id. ¶ 47; and (3) that several of the Caucasian team members’ complaints about Hill had a questionable basis, see, e.g., id. ¶ 37, 43; yet, (4) “[m]anagement acted on the Team’s accusations against Hill without investigating the facts,” id. ¶ 120. Accepting all of these allegations as true, Collura and Rowan acted negligently by not investigating the Caucasian team members’ complaints before removing Hill from his leadership role.3 And because Collura and Rowan acted negligently with respect to the information the Caucasian team members provided, the racial bias of the team members is imputed to them. See Vasquez, Inc., 835 F.3d at 276. Accordingly, the Court will deny the Secretary’s motion to dismiss the race discrimination claim based on Hill’s removal from his leadership position. 4
4 In contesting this conclusion, the Secretary places heavy reliance on Tallbear v. Perry, 318 F. Supp. 3d 255 (D.D.C. 2018). In that case, the Court dismissed a Title VII race discrimination claim by a plaintiff who alleged that her co-workers had continued to use the word “Redskins” in spite of her objection to the term. Id. at 260–61. But Tallbear’s co-workers used the term in the context of discussing the Washington Redskins, a local professional football team, and there was no indication that they used the word as a racial slur or directed it at Tallbear herself. Id. at 261. Here, in stark contrast, Hill has alleged that his team members explicitly referred to the baboon logo as “racist” and ordered hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon-branded gear behind his back after he, the team leader, explained why the logo was offensive and ordered the team to stop using it. Compl. ¶ 19. Moreover, and more importantly, Hill’s co-workers engaged in extensive and targeted efforts to remove him from his supervisory role, see id. ¶¶ 23, 24, 31, 39, 42, 45, 46, 49, and those efforts ultimately succeeded, id. ¶ 56.
Background excerpted from court record:

The Office consists of several teams of agents who deploy worldwide to provide specialized training to overseas personnel, as well as security support for potential and actual crises. Id. ¶ 10. At all times relevant to this case, Hill’s first-level supervisor was Justin Rowan, and his second-level supervisor was Nicholas Collura, Deputy Director of the Office. Id. ¶ 11. Both Rowan and Collura are Caucasian. Id.

In March 2014, Hill was assigned to Team 2 of the Office as its Team Leader. Id. ¶ 12. Another Special Agent, Steven Whitaker, was assigned to Team 2 at that same time. Id. ¶ 15. Both Hill and Whitaker are African American. Id. When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, the team consisted of four members, all of whom were Caucasian. Id. ¶ 14. The four Caucasian team members described themselves as close friends. Id.

When Hill and Whitaker joined Team 2, each of them found a printed image of a baboon—the team’s unofficial logo—at their new desks. Id. ¶ 16. Both Hill and Whitaker were offended by the logo. Id. When Hill officially took over as Team Leader in May 2014, Hill held a team meeting. Id. ¶ 18. At this meeting, Hill explained that he found the baboon logo offensive because of the history of racially derogatory references to apes. Id. Hill instructed the members of Team 2 to stop using the baboon as the team logo. Id.

The Caucasian members of Team 2 continued to use the baboon logo nevertheless. Id. ¶ 19. After Hill banned the logo, the Caucasian team members used their government email accounts to order hundreds of dollars’ worth of baboon coins, badges, stickers, and hats. Id. They jokingly referred to the baboon logo and the word baboon as “racist.” Id. They did not tell Hill or Whitaker that they were ordering the baboon gear. Id. Hill soon discovered that his team members were disregarding his order, though; one agent’s phone lock screen was the baboon image and another agent was handing out baboon coins to soldiers and local contacts. Id. ¶ 20

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@StateDept Did Not Comply With Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2018-003
HELD – The Board granted grievant’s appeal, finding that the U.S. Department of State (Department) did not comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to provide grievant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The Board directed, among other things, that the parties engage in the interactive process required under the ADA to determine a reasonable accommodation.
SUMMARY – Due to a lengthy illness with cancer grievant, while serving on a limited noncareer appointment in the consular skill code, did not receive an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) from an overseas posting. A Commissioning and Tenure Board (CTB) deferred a decision on tenure until she was able to be appraised on her performance at an overseas posting. The Department assigned grievant to an overseas posting to enable her to receive such an EER. However, as a consequence of her chemotherapy, grievant experienced neuropathy in her hands, and she developed an allergy to nickel. Accordingly, she requested that she be permanently reassigned assigned to the economic skill code, which she said would require handling a smaller volume of materials. The Department denied that accommodation request but did provide her with special office equipment that it said would address her nickel allergy. Grievant continued to experience neuropathy during her overseas assignment and was medically curtailed from post without receiving an EER. As a result, her next CTB recommended that she not receive tenure, and the Department terminated her appointment. The Board held that the Department failed to meet the requirement under the ADA and Department regulations to engage with an employee with a qualifying disability, such as grievant, in an “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation. Although grievant’s request to be permanently reassigned to another skill code would be a “last resort” under Department regulations, that did not relieve the Department of the duty to consider other options such as assigning grievant to positions in the consular skill code that did not involve processing large numbers of passport and visa applications. Further, the Department had an ongoing duty to find a reasonable accommodation when it became clear that the accommodation it did provide was not effective. Accordingly, the Board directed that when grievant was cleared medically to serve in an overseas posting, the parties engage in the interactive process to identify an effective accommodation for grievant’s disability.

 

Is this how you keep a potentially embarrassing case away from public eyes?

 

Via FSGB 2018 Annual Report:

In FSGB Case No. 2018-001, an FS-01 appealed a 3-day suspension on a charge of Conduct Unbecoming. The charge arose from allegations that he facilitated the inappropriate hiring of a former political appointee. Grievant contends that, although he was the hiring official, all of his actions were at the direction of senior bureau staff and in consultation with the bureau’s administrative staff. The case was settled and withdrawn.

*

FSGB Case No. 2018-001: On March 1, 2018, the Foreign Service Grievance Board received a Notice of Withdrawal from grievant’s attorney, {Attorney’s Name}, stating as follows: “Grievant, {Grievant’s Name}, through counsel, {Attorney’s Name}, hereby withdraws his grievance appeal filed on January 3, 2018, with prejudice. The parties have settled their dispute.”  The Notice of Withdrawal has been entered in the record of proceedings, and the record is now closed.

We understand that because this case was settled and withdrawn there is no actual FSGB decision in the case; thus, there is no publicly available record of the case. Presumably State/HR/Grievance has the paper trail and the finer details, but for now, because the case was settled we won’t know who is the ex-political appointee, which bureau was involved, which senior bureau … er staffers were responsible, or the terms of the settlement.  One wonders if the State Department settled this case because it did not want the details in public view, or if grievant has the “receipts” that could get higher ups in a specific bureau in trouble?

via tumblr.com

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FSGB Case: Employee’s Mental Health Issues and Performance

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2016-043:

The Department denies that grievant’s 2013 EER is factually inaccurate, falsely prejudicial, or biased, and cites a series of interviews with her supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues to dispute her contentions about the unfairness and inaccuracy of the EER. In response to grievant’s allegation that she was inadequately counselled on the deficiencies described in her EER, the agency contends, based on statements from grievant’s rating officer, that she was in fact counselled, both formally and informally, during the rating period. With respect to grievant’s claim that she was bullied, ostracized, and treated unfairly by the Embassy community, which she alleges triggered her trauma symptoms, the Department provided input from the Ambassador, grievant’s rating officer, and the General Services officer, all of whom disputed grievant’s allegations.

In response to grievant’s claim that she suffered from then-undiagnosed mental health issues (including anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms), the Department counters with quotes from grievant’s rating officer who stated that “from the time REDACTED arrived at post, she appeared unhappy and talked of being stressed.” The rater recalled that some of her stress “appeared to be related to prior postings (including REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED),” and said that “upon arrival she talked to me about how stressful she had found the 6 months of FSI [Foreign Service Institute] REDACTED language training, and told me she urgently needed a break.” The Department was not persuaded that grievant’s poor performance resulted from the medical condition with which grievant was diagnosed after she left REDACTED. The Department put less credence in the medical statement grievant provided from her post-REDACTED therapist, stating “grievant has not provided medical documentation substantiating her alleged diagnosis. Nor does grievant’s counselor provide such documentation; the counselor merely states that ‘I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis.’”

FSGB BOARD:

In all grievances except those involving discipline, the grievant bears the burden of proving that her claims are meritorious.3 This case turns on whether the grievant’s EER is falsely prejudicial, and, whether any documented underperformance can be attributed to the grievant’s post-REDACTED diagnosis of mental health disorders. The Board notes that the record in this case is, unfortunately, sparse with respect to a diagnosis of grievant’s mental health issues. While the Department is correct in noting that grievant’s counselor noted only that “I believe that PTSD is the primary diagnosis,” the Department provides no opposing medical information whatsoever, relying solely on the observation of grievant’s Foreign Service colleagues in REDACTED.  Grievant’s licensed mental health counselor did in fact provide a detailed listing of grievant’s problems in REDACTED, and concluded that grievant suffered mental health disorders as a result thereof. We note that grievant’s counselor saw the grievant regularly over a period of more than a year. On balance, therefore, the Board is obliged to find grievant’s medical evidence preponderant. After careful examination of the ROP, the Board concludes that grievant’s 2013 EER cannot stand, because her performance during that period was likely influenced by her depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms. We base our conclusion largely on the detailed statement submitted by grievant’s Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), with whom grievant had at least 38 therapy sessions between April 2014 and August 2015, and to whom grievant was referred by a prior therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. In the Board’s view, this statement, written by a mental health professional who knows the grievant well, is entitled to more weight in the decision process than that of grievant’s rating and reviewing officers, or her colleagues at post. We also note that the Agency provided no contradictory medical opinion, or any information of a medical nature.

In her August 18, 2015, statement, grievant’s LPC states, in relevant parts:

She was referred to my center, the National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression in Washington DC by a previous therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and Trauma Symptoms. She also sees REDACTED , MD for medications at this center. I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis and the depression and anxiety are symptoms of the PTSD. REDACTED described primitive and unsanitary living conditions that caused her to feel unsafe. She reported unsanitary water in her apartment, unsafe electrical problems, and other living conditions that prevented sleep, peace and support. While in the workplace, she felt she was targeted, bullied and marginalized. Because of the combination of insecurity in her home, insecurity in her workplace, and the stress of an extremely stressful foreign environment, began to suffer from PTSD symptoms. She became depressed and hopeless, developed panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, developed nightmares, and generalized anxiety.

It is my understanding that her evaluations from this period faulted her for having strained relations with her subordinates, program participants, and peers in Washington, as well as difficulty making contacts in the REDACTED media and discomfort speaking to media on the record. I did not observe REDACTED during this period, so I do not have an opinion on the accuracy of these criticisms, but, if true, each would in my opinion be related to the various symptoms of her previously-undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms. 

I do not believe a patient can work with very seasoned therapists or psychiatrists and hide character issues as described in the accusations towards REDACTED. However, I do believe that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for REDACTED , while suffering the effects of PTSD, to maintain a high level of diplomacy, an ability to connect well with co-workers, and to utilize PR skills to connect at work well with the media.

Nightmares, panic attacks, depression, extreme fear, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and not feeling respected or supported would prevent most people from working at a level of excellence which, to my knowledge, had been true for REDACTED before her REDACTED posting. I believe REDACTED ’s behavior while in REDACTED was mischaracterized at most and misunderstood at the least. This is my opinion based on working with many patients who suffer from trauma-related symptoms. 

We find the foregoing LPC statement to be a detailed professional observation, based on relatively long-term (at least 16 months’) observation of grievant, and thus accord it more weight than we do the statements offered by the Department from non-medical providers (her rater, the General Services officer (GSO), the Ambassador, and grievant’s subordinates). While the statement does not contain a definite diagnosis of grievant’s symptoms, we note it is from a licensed medical professional, and is countered by the Department only with comments from non-medical co-workers and colleagues.

THE BOARD’S DECISION:

Grievant has shown by preponderant evidence that she suffered from the effects of then undiagnosed mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during her tour in REDACTED and accordingly, her Employee Evaluation Report (EER) for 2013 must be expunged and replaced in her Official Personnel File (OPF) by a standard gap memorandum. Grievant has shown that she suffered from these conditions and that they affected her performance in ways that contributed to the negative statements in her EER. If she is not promoted by reconstituted Selection Boards for the years 2014 -2017, her Time in Class shall be extended by one year.

One more: “as a general matter, an EER is inherently false, even though it accurately describes an employee’s performance, if that poor performance was the result of the employee’s serious illness.”

Foreign Service Grievance Board: Members as of November 3, 2017

Posted: 2:04 am ET

 

Last week, we blogged about the Foreign Service Grievance Board (see Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8.  Per update from FSGB, Secretary Tillerson had appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. The current FSGB now has a total to 19 members.  The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board, with the exception of two new appointees (note that the hyperlinks to the names is set to auto-download the bios in PDF format). We are reposting the new FSGB below for your information.

Of the ten members whose terms expired on September 30, 2017, six were reappointed to new two-year terms, expiring on September 30, 2019. Those members are as follows:

  • Bernadette Allen
  • Barbara Cummings
  • Gregory Loose
  • Elliot Shaller, Deputy Chair
  • Susan Winfield
  • Garber Davidson (reappointed as a Board member and as Board Chair)

The Secretary appointed five new members to the Board. These members’ terms will expire on September 30, 2019:

  • John Limbert
  • Larry Mandel
  • Wendela Moore
  • Luis Moreno
  • Rosemary Pye

Four former members whose terms expired on September 30, 2017 were not reappointed. They are:

  • Robert Manzanares
  • William Nance
  • Harlan Rosacker
  • John Vittone

Previously appointed members whose term did not expire, and who will be joined by the 11 new/reappointed  members are as follows:

  • William E. Persina
  • Patricia Norland
  • Nancy Morgan Serpa
  • Lino Gutierrez
  • Frank Almaguer
  • David P. Clark
  • Cheryl M. Long
  • Arthur A. Horowitz

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Waiting For Tillerson: Grievance Board’s Term Expired on 9/30, Members Down From 18 to 8

Posted: 2:52 am ET
Updated: 9:12 am PT

 

Update: After this blogpost was posted, we received the following from FSGB today:  “Secretary Tillerson appointed 11 members to the Board on November 3, 2017 – six former members were reappointed and five new members were appointed to their first terms on the Board. this yields a net increase of one Board member, bringing the total to 19 members. On the question of the website address: IRM is aware of the issue with the website and is researching a solution to resolve it. the current address is a temporary fix to allow us to stay online until IRM finds a permanent solution that will comply with the FAH.” The website has now been updated to reflect the members of the new Board.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board has 18 members.  The two-year appointment of 10 of 18 members expired on September 30, 2017. Secretary Tillerson needs to appoint new members of the Board. He is reportedly “considering appointments to the Board” but six weeks later, he has yet to announced his decision.

A quick background on the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) via fsgb.gov:

On March 26, 1976 Congress amended the Foreign Service Act of 1946 to establish a permanent grievance system.  Although it retained many of the procedures of the earlier, interim system, the statutory system carried additional functions and authority.  In particular, the new Board could order the suspension of agency actions pending the Board’s decision in cases involving the separation or disciplining of an employee if it considered such action warranted.  Further, the Board’s recommendations to an agency head could be rejected only if they “would be contrary to law, would adversely affect the foreign policy or security of the United States, or would substantially impair the efficiency of the service.”

Under Section 1105 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended (the Act), Congress established the Foreign Service Grievance Board, which consists of no fewer than five members who are independent, distinguished citizens of the United States. Well known for their integrity, they are not employees of the foreign affairs agencies or members of the Service. Each member, including the Chairperson, is appointed by the Secretary of State for a term of two years, subject to renewal. Appointments are made from nominees approved in writing by the agencies served by the Board and the exclusive representative for each such agency. The Chairperson may select one member as a deputy who, in the absence of the Chair, may assume the duties and responsibilities of that position. The Chair also selects an Executive Secretary, who is responsible to the Board through the Chairperson.

The grievance system underwent further change pursuant to the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and implementing regulations which went into effect on June 11, 1984.  The Foreign Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce and the Foreign Agricultural Service of the Department of Agriculture were added to the agencies already covered.

Through the years the makeup of the Board has changed from the initial nine members to a membership of 18.  Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the innovative mix of an almost equal number of professional arbitrators and of other members having Foreign Service experience has remained constant.

According to the FSGB, the terms of the Chairman and Deputy Chair expired on October 1, 2017, and the Board awaits the Secretary’s appointment of a new Chair.

In 2014, the average time for the disposition of an FSGB case from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal or dismissal was 41 weeks. In 2015, it went down to 34 weeks, and in 2016 that time was up to 39 weeks.  The length of time for disposition of FSGB cases will likely go up again given that the members are down to its last eight members, they have no chairperson until one is appointed, and new members have yet to be appointed six weeks since the last Board’s appointment ended.

Below is the announcement from the FSGB:

Until October 1, the Foreign Service Grievance Board consisted of 18 members, appointed by the Secretary of State to two-year terms.  The terms of ten FSGB members, including the Chairperson, expired on September 30, 2017.  The Secretary of State is considering appointments to the Board, but has not yet announced his decision.  Until the appointments are announced, the remaining eight Board members, with the aid of their staff, will continue to work on resolving the cases before the Board to the extent allowed by time constraints and the limits of the Board’s authority under the Foreign Service Act.  Parties to grievance cases before the Board should adhere to all case processing deadlines, communicating with the adjudication panels through the Board Special Assistant assigned to their cases.  Grievants filing cases in this interim period will receive specific guidance after the grievance is filed. 

The Board requests patience, as case processing times will likely increase due to the reduced number of Board members able to rule on grievances.  Parties will be notified of changes to panel membership when such a change becomes necessary.

Also hey, what’s the deal with FSGB’s new URL –https://regionals.service-now.com/fsgb_public?

State Department websites are supposed to have a .gov in their URLs and are prohibited from using .com.  Per 5 FAH 8 H-342.3-2 Required Domain Names “Department public websites must use a state.gov domain name or .gov according to the naming convention for posts. The top-level name .com is strictly prohibited.”

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Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2016 – Statistics

Posted: 1:19 am ET
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Via fsgb.gov

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Related posts:

 

 

Whoa! What happened to these Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) files? (Updated)

Posted: 3:26 am ET
Updated: 2:53 pm PT (see below)
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An interesting excerpt from an FSGB case:

Grievant “contends that she should not be held to a higher stand (sic) than senior Department officials and a DCM. In two of those cases, very high-ranking officials were found to have been less than candid with the Deputy Secretary of State about their relationships and not to have followed his instructions to “knock it off.””
[…]
FSGB: “However, we find it difficult to conclude that she should be held to a standard higher than that imposed on two of the Department’s most senior managers (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104), who were both charged, unlike grievant, with lack of candor; who failed to heed direct instructions from the Deputy Secretary of State; and whose conduct led to several complaints being lodged with the Director General of the Foreign Service, as well as curtailments from the office in which they worked. Likewise, we do not agree that grievant, an FS-02, should be punished more harshly than the employee charged in FSGB Case No. 2003- 045, who was, at least during part of the conduct at issue, a Deputy Chief of Mission and thus presumably senior to grievant in the instant case, in both rank and responsibility.”

That perked our interest. So we went looking for FSGB cases 2005-103, 2005-104 and FSGB Case No.2003- 045 using the search and browse function at fsgb.gov.  And lo, and behold, all these files (Record of Proceeding) are missing from the FSGB website (the FSGB case is online, but search function failed to locate it, see explanation below).  We’ve asked the FSGB what happened to these files and why they are not online. We will update this post if/when we get a response.

The Deputy Secretary of State in 2005 is either Richard Armitage who served from March 26, 2001 to February 22, 2005 or Robert Zoellick who served from February 22, 2005 to July 7, 2006, both under President George W. Bush. The Director General of the Foreign Service at that time is W. Robert Pearson who served from October 7, 2003 – February 27, 2006.

Update 2:53 pm PT

In response to our query, FSGB said that the first two numbers we cited (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104) are not FSGB numbers but numbers assigned by the State Department to employees who faced some sort of discipline; these discipline cases were later presented to the Foreign Service Grievance Board as comparators.  The FSGB website only includes decisions and orders from the Board. It adds:

“We try to post all our decisions and orders online. Sometimes we learn something was missed due to an administrative error, and then we post it as soon as possible when the problem is brought to our attention. We also are reviewing each year’s cases systematically to ensure there are no gaps. We welcome your bringing to our attention any gaps you identify. Please note, however, that a skipped number does not necessarily mean there is something that we are not posting; it could mean that an appeal was withdrawn very early or consolidated with another appeal and given the other appeal’s number before issuance of a decision.”

As to FSGB Case No. 2003-045, it is online and the Board provided us the link here

 

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Related item:
State-13: Foreign Service Grievance Board Records

 

 

 

@StateDept Updates Its Polygraph Policy: Are Results Shared For Security Clearance/Assignment Purposes?

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On September 1, 2016, the State Department updated its 12 FAM 250 policy on the use of the polygraph to examine Department employees (including employees on the General Schedule, the Foreign Service, on Personal Service Contracts, Limited NonCareer Appointees, and Locally Employed Staff).  

Per 12 FAM 251.2-2, the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (DS/DO/ICI) Counterterrorism Vetting Unit (CCV) administers the polygraph program and is responsible for hiring polygraph examiners, responding to requests for polygraph support, deploying polygraph examiners, and maintaining relevant records.

The update includes the following:
  • Streamlines the polygraph examination process by removing a requirement to seek pre-approval before a DS or OIG agent can ask an employee if s/he is willing to submit to a polygraph.
  • Authorizes a DS agent or Department OIG investigator to alert an employee or contractor, currently subject to a criminal, personnel security, or counterintelligence investigation, that s/he has the option to undergo an exculpatory polygraph examination, rather than limiting exculpatory polygraphs to cases where it is initiated by the individual under investigation.
  • Allow polygraphs of Department employees detailed to federal agencies (in addition to the NSA, CIA, and DIA) when the relevant agency requires a polygraph to be detailed to the position. Polygraphs of employees detailed to agencies other than the NSA, CIA, or DIA will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require approval from the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Limits the scope of polygraph examinations of Department detailees to other federal agencies to counterintelligence topics for all detailees.
  • Formalize existing processes for polygraph examination of certain locally employed staff, in accordance with the approvals specified in the polygraph policy

Back in May 2015, we questioned the use of the CIA’s polygraph exams of State Department employees (see AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please).

Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?

We’ve recently discovered a newly posted grievance case dated March 2010. We don’t know why this is currently on display upfront on fsgb.gov.  In any case, this is related to the subject of polygraph examination.

On June 24, 2009, grievant, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, appealed to the FS Grievance Board the State Department’s (Department) denial of his grievance with respect to the use of the results of a polygraph exam he took in 2003 in conjunction with a detail to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Grievant claims the improper handling and use of the results of that exam violated the Department’s own regulations (12 FAM 250) and resulted in his having been denied a Presidential Appointment as a Chief of Mission (Ambassador).  The ROP includes some interesting interrogatories:

#1: Has the Department ever obtained a Department employee’s polygraph examination results from the CIA for a personnel security background investigation based on the employee’s SF-86 signed release? If so, please describe the circumstances under which this would occur.

The Department objected to answering this interrogatory on the grounds that is was overbroad, immaterial, and irrelevant.

IR #6e for Diplomatic Security Case Officer for the second background investigation: Have you ever requested an employee’s polygraph results from the CIA before? If so, under what circumstances‘?

The Department found this interrogatory overbroad, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Ruling on IR #6e: Under the more ample concept of relevance applied at the discovery stage, the Board finds that the information requested is sufficiently relevant to grievant’s claims or likely to lead to the discovery of information relevant to such claims to compel discovery. The information requested may help to clarify the Department’s practice in applying the regulations governing the use of polygraphs that are issue in this case. We do not find the request to impose such a burden on the Department as to outweigh the potential usefulness of the information requested. The Department is directed to respond.

IR # 7h for Diplomatic Security: Does DS routinely request and receive polygraph examination results on all Department employees who have taken polygraph examinations at the CIA as part of their routine background security investigations?

The Department objected to this interrogatory as irrelevant and immaterial in all respects.

The Department was directed to respond to grievant’s Interrogatories 6e and 7h not later than 20 days after receipt of the order but we have been unable to find the decision on this case.

 

On June 24, 2009, grievant filed a grievance appeal, claiming improper use by the Department (Department, agency) of the results of a polygraph examination he had taken in conjunction with a detail from the Department to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The grievant makes several specific claims:

1) that the CIA provided the results of the polygraph to a Diplomatic Security (DS) agent in the Department, in violation of Department regulations and CIA policy;
2) that the Department requested and/or received the polygraph results from the CIA, in violation of its own regulations;
3) that the Department improperly used the polygraph results in the course of security update investigations; and
4) that the Department improperly provided information drawn from the polygraph to the Director General (DG), which resulted in the DG withdrawing grievant’s nomination to be a chief of mission. The FSGB Board finds that it has jurisdiction over the claims presented by the grievant.

 

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Domestic Assault, Reporting Requirement Under 2 FAM 272, and a Troublesome Comma

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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This is a grievance case about a domestic assault, an arrest, and a punctuation:

Grievant is a tenured FP-02 Financial Management Specialist, employed by the Department of State as a Regional Financial Management Officer at the REDACTED at the Executive Office of the REDACTED. He has been employed by the Department since 1997, serving both overseas and domestically.

On June 29, 2013, grievant was arrested in REDACTED on a charge of domestic assault against his wife. Grievant’s former wife reported this arrest to the Department; however, when grievant’s current spouse told authorities that the incident was a misunderstanding, the charges were dropped on July 22, 2013. On August 6, 2013, the Department of Diplomatic Security (DS) obtained a copy of the arrest report and began investigating grievant’s failure to report the incident.

DS issued a Report of Investigation (ROI), dated January 14, 2014 and on December 12, 2014, the Director of the Office of Employee Relations (HR/ERCSD) notified grievant of a proposal to suspend him for a period of five (5) calendar days without pay on a charge of Failure to Follow Policy, citing 12 FAM 272. Grievant submitted a written response to the proposal on February 20, 2015, claiming that he did not realize that he had to report the arrest because the regulation is not clear. In any event, he claimed, the arrest was reported by his ex-wife and the charges were dropped within weeks of the arrest. Finally, he claimed that the penalty was too harsh, in light of his confusion about the mandate. After reviewing grievant’s response, the Deciding Official concluded that grievant knowingly failed to report his arrest immediately after it occurred and that he was on notice of his obligation to report the arrest, both because of the “clarity” of the regulation and because grievant had previously made a mandatory report under this same provision in 2010. In the end, the Deciding Official did not credit the reasons offered by grievant and sustained the charge on April 3, 2015.

Grievant argues that the wording of 12 FAM 272 is “far from clear.” He contends that the Department’s construction of the regulation is unfair because it relies on either removing or ignoring punctuation that totally changes the meaning of the provision.

12 FAM 272 states in pertinent part:

b. Employees must immediately report information of a potentially . . . derogatory nature . . . concerning their . . .

(2) Adverse involvement with law enforcement agencies to include:

(a) Arrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed, or
(b) Arrests for “driving under the influence” [DUI] or “driving while intoxicated [DWI].

c. Arrests must be reported in a timely fashion (i.e., within 72 hours) and must not be delayed pending the conclusion of any judicial action.

[…]
The Department argues that 12 FAM 272 b should be interpreted to require disclosures by cleared employees of any and all arrests, including two traffic offenses — DUI and DWI. The only exception to this rule of mandatory disclosure, according to the Department, is that an employee is not required to disclose “minor traffic violations for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more is imposed.”

The agency contends that this regulation required grievant to disclose the fact of his arrest for domestic assault because it was not for a minor traffic violation. The Department concedes that “the specifics of 12 FAM 272(b) could be more precisely worded,” and “the wording of 12 FAM 272(b) could be improved,” but insists that grievant had sufficient notice that he was  required to report his arrest. The Department lastly argues that under both sections 272 b and 272 c, grievant should have reported his arrest immediately, that is, within 72 hours of his “adverse involvement with law enforcement.”

Here is the full section of the Foreign Affairs Manual:

12 FAM 272  REPORTING ADVERSE FINANCIAL SITUATIONS AND CERTAIN ARRESTS
(CT:DS-143;   02-12-2009)

a. Employees should use good judgment and discretion in recognizing and avoiding situations and/or behavior that would call into question their judgment, reliability, and trustworthiness to safeguard information and to hold a position of trust and responsibility.

b. Employees must immediately report information of a potentially derogatory nature to the Director, Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS) concerning their:

(1)  Wage garnishments, credit judgments, repossessions, tax liens, bankruptcies, and/or intentions to file for bankruptcy; or

(2)  Adverse involvement with law enforcement agencies to include:

(a)  Arrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed; or

(b)  Arrests for “driving under the influence” or “driving while intoxicated.”

c.  Arrests must be reported in a timely fashion (i.e., within 72 hours) and must not be delayed pending the conclusion of any judicial action.

d. Employees with information they believe may have a bearing on another individual’s eligibility for access to classified information, as listed in 12 FAM 233.2, should report that information to the Director, DS/SI/PSS.

e. Reporting pursuant to this section should be in writing and directed to the Director, DS/SI/PSS, and may be either faxed to (571) 345-3191 or sent by mail to DS/SI/PSS, Attn: Director, 11th floor, SA-20.  Reports may also be emailed to DSDirectorPSS@state.gov.

f.  Cleared contractors must report information listed in paragraphs b, c, and d of this section to the Industrial Security Division (DS/IS/IND).  See 12 FAM 576.4 for additional adverse information reporting requirements.

The FSGB disagrees with the Department interpretation:

The critical language is “[a]rrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed. . . .” The Department argues that this language should be interpreted as if the second comma were not there. That is, the agency would have us read the provision to require disclosure of: “(a) [All] arrests, other than minor traffic violations for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed. . . .” We find that while this may have been what was intended, the first rule of statutory construction is to give the words of the enactment their plain and ordinary meaning, presumably as punctuated, unless there is a clear contrary intent expressed.
[…]
We conclude that whatever the intent of the drafters, a clear delineation of what arrests are required to be reported was not captured in the language of the section 272 b(2)(a). We also conclude that both parties’ interpretations leave serious questions about which arrests were intended to be disclosed and which ones did not have to be reported.

12 FAM 270 was last updated on March 9, 2015.

Read the FSGB case below:

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