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

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In EEOC Appeal No. 2021001898, Complainant appealed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or “Commission”) the State Department’s January 7, 2021 dismissal of his complaint alleging unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The unnamed complainant works at the Office of Language Services within the Bureau of Administration, one of the 13 offices under the Under Secretary for Management.
Below from the EEOC decision dated April 19, 2021:

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

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

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

Background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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USCCR extends comment period for sexual harassment inquiry to Monday, June 25th

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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This is a follow-up to our post: U.S. Civil Rights Commission Examines Sexual Harassment in Federal Govt (State, NASA) #FedMeToo

The U.S. Commission by unanimous vote extended the public comment period for its sexual harassment in the federal workplaces investigation from June 10th to Monday, June 25th.

The Commission is seeking to learn more from the public about sexual harassment in the federal government, including:

  • the culture surrounding the reporting of harassment in federal agencies,
  • the reporting process,
  • and new tools that can be used to address the issue.

The Commission will now accept written materials for consideration as we prepare our report on the subject. Please submit no later than June 25th, 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. Testimony from this briefing and public comments will inform our 2019 report to Congress, the President, and the American people regarding the state of sexual harassment in the federal government.

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

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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