EEOC Reasonable Accommodation Case Gets Damage Award of $50K

 

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

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

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

1. Complainant was denied a reasonable accommodation;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Judicial Actions Involving Foreign Service Grievance Board Rulings

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The Foreign Service Grievance Board’s Annual Report for 2020 was released on March 1, 2021. It includes a summary of judicial actions involving the Board’s decisions:
Two decisions were issued in 2020 in court cases related to appeals from Board decisions:
FSGB Case No. 2017-014

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-014 was denied tenure and scheduled for separation from the Foreign Service. Consequently, the Department ordered her to leave her overseas post and assigned her to a position in Washington, D.C. The grievant filed a grievance challenging the reassignment. The Department denied the grievance, and the Board affirmed the Department’s decision. The grievant appealed the Board’s decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, which upheld the Board’s ruling in a decision issued September 24, 2018. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court decision, in an order issued January 8, 2020.

FSGB Case No. 2012-057

USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. The Board approved the agency’s decision in 2017, and she was removed for knowingly submitting false vouchers over a six-month period. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and in a decision issued October 12, 2018, the judge upheld the Board’s decision on summary judgment, and affirmed the Board’s decision rejecting grievant’s whistleblower retaliation claim. The grievant appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which in an unpublished judgment on July 24, 2020 affirmed the District Court’s dismissal, validating the Board’s decision.

Pending court cases:
Consolidated cases 2013-031R and 2016-030

In a long-running case, an appeal by the State Department and USAID/OIG of the Board’s 2017 decision in consolidated cases 2013-031R and 2016-030 remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case concerns the calculation of a Foreign Service Officer’s retirement annuity. As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in those cases contested the Department’s decision to calculate his retirement annuity based on the application of a pay cap on his special differential pay that had not been applied when his salary was paid. The Board initially upheld the agency’s decision in 2014. Grievant appealed, and in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492, the District Court vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board issued a decision granting grievant the calculation and payment of his annuity that he sought. The Board denied the Department’s request for reconsideration of that decision. The Department and USAID/OIG jointly appealed the Board’s decision on remand to the District Court in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41, where it remains pending.

FSGB Case No. 2016-063

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2016-063 challenged a one-day suspension based on three specifications of a charge of Improper Personal Conduct – two involving alleged inappropriate comments, and a third involving an alleged physical touching of another employee. The Department denied the grievance, and the Board affirmed in part, sustaining specifications of misconduct pertaining to one of the alleged comments and to the alleged touching, and holding that the suspension was reasonable in light of the two specifications that were sustained. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case is pending in District Court.

FSGB Case No. 2014-003

As discussed in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia. She claimed that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act when it failed to provide her with reasonable accommodation when she was separated for failing to meet the running requirement for newly-hired DS agents and by failing to assign her to a different, available position. On May 2, 2019, the Court referred the case to a magistrate for mediation and on May 7, 2019, the magistrate ordered appointment of counsel for the grievant. The parties began mediation at the end of 2020 and are still engaged in mediation efforts. No trial date has been set.

Pending with the Board
FSGB Case No. 2014-018

Also as described in previous reports, the appellant in FSGB Case No. 2014-018 had requested a waiver of collection of a substantial overpayment of her deceased mother’s survivor’s annuity. The Department contended that she was not entitled to consideration of a waiver because the overpayment was made to her mother’s estate, and under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued March 23, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Board had erred in determining that the overpayments were made to the mother’s estate rather than to grievant as an individual. The court remanded the case to the Board for consideration of the merits of the waiver request. The Department moved the court for reconsideration. The court denied the Motion for Reconsideration in an order dated January 19, 2018, and again remanded the case to the Board. The Board remanded the case to the Department for a determination in the first instance as to whether the appellant’s request for a waiver should be granted. On August 6, 2019, the Department’s Associate Comptroller denied the waiver request and the parties entered into settlement discussions, requesting a stay in the proceedings in the interim. The stay has since expired and the appellant’s appeal to the Board is now pending.

 


 

EEOC: Denial of Reasonable Accommodation Found

Via EEOC:

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation Found.

Jona R. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182063 (Jan. 23, 2020).

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

@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.

 

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

Posted: 2:36 am ET

 

Via eeoc.gov/vol 1/FY18:

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

Here is a quick summary of the case:

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

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