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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Chigozie Okocha: The Slow Burning Car That is the Black and Brown Experience in the State Department

By Chigozie Okocha
(The author is a second-tour Foreign Service Officer, currently serving as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad, India).

 

In response to the killing of George Floyd and tense protests in the United States, a white colleague graciously reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to lead a discussion on the racial tension that I or other black and brown colleagues may be experiencing in the State Department.  I assumed it was an appeal to support in organizing a space for me to vent my frustrations, if I chose to do so.  I recognize that the idea with this type of forum is to encourage further discussion around issues particularly affecting officials that look like me to freely unpack and process through subtle hostilities and/or overt discriminatory practices we witness within the State Department.  I respectfully declined.
I declined not because I am against such a proposition, quite the contrary.  I do believe holding open and honest interventions about racial issues and unconscious bias, interwoven with office politics, could prove fruitful (and probably should be instituted in most office spaces).  Such fora could potentially help victims of these office transgressions express themselves in ways that they have never done before, to colleagues who may occupy a significant amount of time and space in their daily lives.
I declined because as I was experiencing mental burnout from processing racial tension in the United States, I was not convinced this request satisfied the cost-benefit analysis.  And now that I have taken a bit longer to reflect on the proposition, I feel fully cemented in my decision.  Holding such a forum is not for me, and here is why.
All officers who work for the State Department upon entry into the Foreign Service go through a six-week orientation, in which one day is dedicated to acknowledging the institution’s white-washed history.  The State Department, like most other institutions whether public or private, had its history imbued with racist measures embedded in its brick and mortar – from biased recruitment and testing to the “Negro Circuit,” or as former Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. explains, a label that describes a process by which assignments for African American Ambassadors were limited to only smaller less-influential posts.  The State Department in its inception was not for black and brown applicants.
In its defense, the State Department has made strides to uproot its previously held racist policies, including a concerted effort through fellowship programs and advocacy/affinity groups.  But naturally, that uprooting leaves residue scattered everywhere, which can be hard to see.  The decision makers who take up senior leadership positions in the State Department are still predominately white.  And for many black or brown junior and mid-level officers, stories abound of racial bias or prejudicial slights and insults that would considerably dampen the mood at any weekend social gathering.
It’s this elephant in the room I am reminded of that makes me think, “what would a forum for such discussions serve, if not only to put these officers on display so they may relive their possibly potent traumatic experiences, for your recreation?”  As onlookers drive past and stare intriguingly at the burning car, only to then continue on toward their intended destination, the consequence of inaction is institutionalized apathy.  You might be thinking, “well these sessions help us learn, and they encourage us to devise a path forward,” to which I echo an activist who asked “what extensive course are you learning and why haven’t you passed yet?”
From junior officers to ambassadors, the stories of racism or inequities in hiring practices, promotions, and assignments that former or current black and brown State Department officials have experienced are already public and accessible.  The statistics underscoring inequalities are also public and accessible.  Better yet, there are countless articles on the web that offer direct testimony on how underlying racial biases have permeated the workplace and everyday life.  What else is there to learn?
A CALL TO ACTION . . .

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AAD Writes to Pompeo on the Harassment of American Diplomats at U.S.Borders

 

On July 13, 2020, the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) sent a formal letter to the Secretary of State regarding the issue of harassment of American Diplomats at U.S. border entry points. The letter was also furnished to the offices of the Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao, and the Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez.
Excerpt below:

We are writing to address one acute issue: the deeply troubling pattern in the mistreatment of Black, Hispanic and other minority officers crossing U.S. border/entry points.  By their own testimony, many State Department officers have endured regular and persistent discrimination and harassment by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers.  Problems include CBP officers not accepting standard diplomatic documents; placing Black and Hispanic officers in secondary examination without cause; and repeated hostile questioning and delays. This is made even more glaring when they travel with Caucasian colleagues who pass through with the same documentation. This pattern became so persistent that it reportedly led to the 2018 resignation of a Black officer posted to Mexico. In the June 11 issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, this officer reported raising the issue with supervisors and was met with relative indifference. Another officer reported problems and continued delays, even after being issued a letter by a supervisor explaining her official status.

Mistreatment of State Department personnel by U.S. CBP is not new. We have learned that such incidents have often disrupted the official travel of Black, Hispanic and other officers. While in the past, some incidents came to the attention of Department leadership, the continued reports, including from our most senior members, suggest that such mistreatment lives on and too often goes unaddressed. We hope you concur that any perception of tacit acceptance of such practices or indifference to the reports by Department officials or other Federal officials is unacceptable and warrants action.

We would like to suggest some steps to address and hopefully halt the mistreatment of Black and other minority staff, indeed all State Department staff, by law enforcement at border entry posts:

    • A Department-wide review, ordered by you, regarding the specific incidents reported by officers and consideration of measures that can be taken within State both to intervene immediately in such cases and ensure equal treatment at the border of all staff in Mexico and worldwide;
    • A review of the issue at a senior level with the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to ensure such practices cease; and
    • Make clear to all Department employees that you regard such mistreatment as unacceptable, that you expect reported cases to be addressed overseas and domestically, as appropriate, and that you will follow up regularly with the Director General and relevant senior officials at State and other agencies.

The American Academy of Diplomacy strongly supports a diverse, inclusive, well-resourced, and high-impact State Department. Further progress toward this objective will require sustained effort at the most senior levels to ensure that all Department officers get the respect and dignity from US  law enforcement officials, which every American is entitled to at the border and international entry points, especially while on official duty. 

We are confident you share our concern regarding the debilitating effects on the morale of our Black,  Hispanic and other minority officers that this systemic discrimination from staff of another US Government agency has and that you undertake every effort to end it.

The AAD letter was signed by  Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, the chairman and president respectively of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Ex-FSO Tianna Spears: Dear @StateDept, “Hello there, it’s me again”

 

Tianna Spears:
“You held discussions and town halls. As the paint dries, Juneteenth receives recognition, and Confederate statues are destroyed, remember that this is just the beginning.
You ask people of color and Black employees to share their suffering and experiences that were repeatedly dismissed and ignored. There is trauma, mental illness, stolen dreams, nightmares, and whispers that travel around the world in household effects. This isn’t the case just for Foreign Service members that are people of color, but the entire organization.
As employees that are people of color come forward and speak their truth, have you provided paid counseling/ therapy and tangible resources to continue these conversations? You ask my fellow colleagues to do the work for you once again.
You retraumatize.”
Related post: You ask, what is it like to be Black in America? A former @StateDept employee tells her story

FBI Agents Hung A Noose Over an African American DS Agent’s Workspace Twice, FBI Called It “Pranks”

Posted: 1:20 am ET
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This is a hostile environment harassment case originally filed in 2009 with the final EEOC decision issued in July 22, 2014. It involves an African-American Diplomatic Security Agent and FBI Agents assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Tampa, Florida. The allegations include the hanging of a noose (twice) over the wall separating the DS Agent’s cubicle and adjacent workspace, and racially motivated comments  and use of the “n-word” against then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

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

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

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

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

Here are the facts from the EEOC case file:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt below from the EEOC’s analysis and findings:

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

FBI claims the two “noose” incidents were mere pranks

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

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

Agency’s liability

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

FBI failed to advise the State Department of investigation results

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

FBI failed to end hostile environment

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

Diplomatic Security Agent-Complainant was removed from workplace

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

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No Publicity Zone — 2012 Judicial Actions Involving Foreign Service Grievance Board Rulings

— Domani Spero

We’ve  heard from the FS grapevine about an agreement that there will be no publicity of grievance results.  If that’s true, well, that’s a terribly bad agreement, right?

So if you want to keep up with Foreign Service grievance cases that went to court, you can check FSGB’s annual report to Congress which details judicial actions related to Board cases during the year.   We have listed them below from the 2012 report and have included the links to PDF files for all the court rulings but one.  In he future, most of the cases should be available via the GPO but if not available there, you can also try looking them up using pacer.gov (requires registration and payment for document view/download).

Karl Hampton v. Tom Vilsack | PDF

Karl Hampton is a former Foreign Service Officer with the Department of Agriculture who was terminated for cause after a hearing before the Board in 2007. He subsequently filed a Title VII suit against USDA, claiming discrimination on the basis of race, retaliation for engaging in protected activity, and a hostile work environment. Last year the District Court for D.C. granted USDA’s motion for summary judgment on nine of the ten counts alleged, and later dismissed the tenth count. Karl Hampton v. Tom Vilsack, 760 F. Supp. 2d 38 (D. D.C. 2011). Hampton appealed that decision. In a de novo review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling. Karl Hampton, Appellant v. Tom Vilsack, Secretary, United States Department Of Agriculture, Appellee, 685 F.3d 1096; (U.S. App. D.C. 2012).

Richard Lubow, et al., v. United States Department of State, et al., | PDF

The plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al., v. United States Department of State, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10780, (D.D.C. 2013) were five Diplomatic Security Agents who had served in Iraq in 2004. They grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts that the Department had paid them in excess of that cap. The FSGB concluded that, contrary to the Department’s findings, the grievants were not at fault in incurring the overpayments and thus were eligible for a waiver of their debts. However, the Board also found that it was within the Department’s discretion to decline to grant the waivers, and that the Department had appropriately considered the relevant factors and had not abused its discretion in denying the waivers. The District Court affirmed those findings and granted summary judgment in favor of the Department.

Jeffrey Glassman v. the U.S. Department of State (unable to locate this case. See this article from WaPo: Disabled but determined, U.S. diplomat Jeffrey Glassman sues over forced retirement)

In an order dated September 25, 2012, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District Court of D.C. dismissed three counts of the plaintiff’s claims in Jeffrey Glassman v. the U.S. Department of State, et. al., Civil Action No. 10-1729, as well as both the Department of State and the Foreign Service Grievance Board as defendants, on procedural grounds. Glassman is a former officer of the Department of State who grieved his involuntary retirement, claiming it was a result of his disability and therefore illegal. The Board denied Glassman’s claim. Glassman appealed that decision to the district court, while also independently claiming a violation of the Rehabilitation Act. While dismissing three counts and two defendants, the court ordered the case to proceed on Glassman’s remaining claim, that the Foreign Service precepts have a disparate impact on him and others with disabilities because of their emphasis on unusually difficult or dangerous assignments, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. The Secretary of State, as head of the agency, remained as the sole defendant.

Richard Baltimore, III v. Hillary Clinton | PDF

In Richard Baltimore, III v. Hillary Clinton, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153253 (D.D.C. 2012), former Ambassador Baltimore appealed a decision by the FSGB sustaining charges by the Department of State involving misuse of an official vehicle and failure to report the gift of a rug, that resulted in a 45-day suspension without pay. Baltimore challenged the Board’s decision as arbitrary and capricious. The D.C. District Court upheld the Board’s reasoning and decision.

Yamin v. United States Department of State | PDF

On November 19, 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. District Court to review the FSGB’s May 23, 2012 order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal. Yamin is a Department of State officer who had received a one-day suspension in a disciplinary action. In his appeal to the FSGB, the Board upheld the charge, but found the one-day suspension to be excessive and reduced the penalty to an admonishment. Yamin requested attorney fees and expenses in the amount of $71,645.48. The Board approved $12,385.03, denying the rest. Yamin requested a review of this decision.

 

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Farris v. Clinton: Race/Gender Discrimination Case Going to Trial

With “Stretch” and “Cede” Policies Up Front

On March 12, in a civil action lawsuit Farris v. Clinton, the United States District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina granted the defendant’s (Clinton/State Department) renewed motion for summary judgment with respect to Virginia Loo Farris’ retaliation claims but denies it with respect to the her discrimination claims. So there will be no trial for the retaliation claims but I understand that if no motion is filed, then it looks like this discrimination case proceeds to trial.

The original defendant to this action was Secretary Rice when this action was instituted. The court has substituted the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as the defendant in this action when she became SoS.

Virginia Loo Farris is an Asian-American woman formerly employed by the U.S. Foreign Service under the U.S. Department of State (“the Department”). She was a thirty-four year veteran of the Foreign Service.Ms. Farris alleges that the State Department unlawfully discriminated against her based on her race and gender and then retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination. The Department previously filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court denied in June 2007 after determining that the plaintiff was entitled to discovery to develop the factual record. Following the close of discovery, the Department filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Because Ms. Farris has produced enough evidence to withstand summary judgment on her discrimination claims but not on her retaliation claims, the court grants in part and denies in part the Department’s renewed motion for summary judgment.

 

The plaintiff claims the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender by denying her bids for two positions: one as a USNATO Political Counselor, a principal adviser to Ambassador Vershbow, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.S. Mission toNATO (“the USNATO position”), and another as the Political Advisor to the NATO military commander in the Hague (“the Hague POLAD position”). Compl. ¶ 11; Def.’s Mot. at 5.

In denying the State Department’s renewed motion for summary judgment with respect to Ms. Farris’s race and gender discrimination claims, the Court states that its central task is to determine “whether the plaintiff has produced evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that the defendant’s asserted non-discriminatory reason for not hiring her was pretextual and that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff based on her race and/or gender.”

Ms. Farris offers four rationales in support of her contention that the Department’s asserted nondiscriminatory reason was a pretext for unlawful discrimination: 1) statistical evidence (which did not fly), 2) the candidates’ respective qualifications for the USNATO position (here the court decides that no reasonable jury could determine that the plaintiff was significantly more qualified than the other candidate), 3) preselection and 4) failure to follow established procedures.

I am not surprised to hear that there is a dearth of Asian American women at the highest level of the State Department but it is still kind of shocking to see it in stark numbers:

 

 

“The statistics that the plaintiff offers, viewed in the light most favorable to her, show that as of 2000, while women were heavily represented among the civil service employee base of the Department, men comprised 72% of the senior ranks of the Foreign Service. The plaintiff also proffers statistics concerning the representation of Asian-American women in particular among the senior ranks of the Foreign Service: at the plaintiff’s seniority level, only 4 officers out of 390 were Asian-American women.”

The Court did note that what Ms. Farris’ statistics fail to address, is the only comparison relevant to this action, namely, the proportion of qualified Asian-American candidates to those chosen for senior-level Foreign Service positions.

Now, items #3 and #4 are where this gets rather interesting — but more so when this gets to trial. Why? These may cast some bright sunshine on a few things that are particularly vexing in the Foreign Service when folks are “bidding” for their forward assignment every 2-3 years – oh, just things like preselection, “fair share,” “stretch” and “cede” policies.

I should note here that according to AFSA some 12 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions (excluding Iraq and Afghanistan) are now vacant, as are 33 percent of domestic Foreign Service positions. Furthermore, 19 percent of the filled slots are held by employees “stretched” into a position designated for a more experienced person.

On preselection, this is what the court record says – “The plaintiff next claims that the defendant preselected Goodman for the USNATO position because he was a member of a “good old boy” network, and that consistent with Goodman’s preselection, Thomas Tiernan, a human resources representative, pressured the plaintiff to withdraw her bid for the position.”

The Court states that it is “undisputed that as early as April 2000, the Department’s EUR Bureau strongly endorsed Goodman for the USNATO position.[…] On May 12, 2000, Tiernan e-mailed the plaintiff urging her to reconsider her candidacy for the position, Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 9; when she declined his advice, the defendant selected Goodman for the post in June 2000, Tiernan Dep. at 105.”

On the charges of failure to follow established procedures– State maintains that “cedes are granted even when there are senior officers prepared to take the job. Simply put, plaintiff’s seniority does not trump the prerequisite experience for the position.”Apparently, it is the State Department’s view that “because the plaintiff was willing but not qualified to take the USNATO position, the defendant properly granted a cede to Goodman.”

Now, this is where I get confused. This seems to be saying that a “cede” occurs independent of any action from a specific candidate bidding on a specific position. But to cede means “to relinquish possession or control over something,” except in this case, the employer is the one granting the cede, not the impacted employee. But why was she asked to reconsider her candidacy if it were not up to her to cede?

On the fair share policy: Ms. Farris also claims the defendant violated the “fair share policy” as it is articulated in Department regulations. Pl.’s Opp’n at 28-30. “According to the plaintiff, the policy aims to prevent officers from “limit[ing] themselves to one geographic area and thus overly identify[ing] with such area; the rules also prevent an informal ‘revolving door’ that would deprive others of the opportunity to serve in more developed, favored posts.” Id. at 28.”

The Department’s response:“the policy is intended to ensure that it can staff its “hardship posts,” not to enable as many officers as possible to serve in favored posts, including those in Europe.”

The Court then says that to determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to whether the defendant violated the stretch policy by hiring Goodman, the court looks to the evidence proffered by both parties, viewing it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.:

 

“Viewing the evidence in this light, the court concludes that there is a factual dispute with respect to whether the defendant’s decision to hire Goodman notwithstanding the plaintiff’s bid was consistent with standard practice within the Department. See Lathram, 336 F.3d at 1093-94. The court is in no position to resolve this dispute by crediting either party’s version of the facts, and contrary to the defendant’s assertions, it is far from clear from the evidence submitted that the decision to hire Goodman did not deviate from standard practice. Id. Thus, a reasonable jury could determine that the defendant failed to follow established procedures, which could in turn give rise to a determination that the defendant’s asserted nondiscriminatory justification for the hiring decision was pretextual. Brady, 520 F.3d at 495 n.3.

On The Hague POLAD position (see discussion starting on page 18). The Department does not contest the plaintiff’s account of the factual circumstances surrounding her requests to be considered for The Hague POLAD position. Id. At 13-15. Instead the Department exlains:

 

“that although it had already submitted its short list in November 1999, the position still appeared by mistake on the “open assignments” list. Id. at 13-14. Because Whitlock “did not have any involvement with [the Hague POLAD] placement,” he was unaware that bidding was closed on the position when he mistakenly told the plaintiff that the position was still open. Id. at 14. In December 1999, the position again erroneously appeared as an open assignment – this time on the “hard to fill” list – because the individual responsible for posting the “hard to fill” list was misinformed. Id. Finally, the defendant notes that the plaintiff would not have been offered the position even if she had been allowed to bid on it because she was less qualified than the successful candidate. Def.’s Mot. at 10, 29-30.”

Read the whole thing here.

I supposed that a lot of mid-level and senior officers would like to see how this case turns out. As well as junior/mid-level officers who may be interested in “stretch” and “double stretch” assignments. The entire assignment process could be on trial with this case. Who knows what will happen next? I happen to think that transparency in the bidding and assignment process is swell — if that elephant actually walks as well as it talks.

Is it time for State to rethink this whole process? Patricia H. Kushlis of Whirled View recently penned a piece entitled Clean Up Time at Foggy Bottom? It is a good read but you won’t see it published in the in-house magazines.

I can’t help thinking that the courts do have a way of inflicting change on organizations whether they are ready for it or not. In 1968, Foreign Service Officer Allison Palmer filed a sex discrimination case that she won three years later. Her victory, according to U.S. Diplomacy resulted in an order from management barring all discrimination in assignments.

As an aside, I ‘d like to note that the State Department did not overturn its ban on the marriage of female diplomats until 1972 1971. And until the early 70’s Foreign Service Officers were still evaluated partly on the performance and personal qualities of their wives. To think that this was considered normal in those days …

In 1977, another sex discrimination, this time a class action suit was filed by Carolee Brady Hartman against the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America. It was fought for 23 years and in 2000 finally resulted in a settlement that paid $532,000 to each of the nearly 1,100 women involved in the case.

I don’t know if this is the case that will break the transparent elephant’s back, let’s wait and see … shall we?

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