Biliovschi Smith v. Blinken: EFM Alleges Discrimination Under Title VII #superiorqualificationsrate

 

Via Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-03065 (CJN)
For over two years, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith worked for the State Department as a Media Outreach Assistant out of the American embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. A series of disputes among Ms. Smith, a coworker, and embassy management resulted in Ms. Smith filing this lawsuit, which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. See generally Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss & for Summ. J. (“Mot.”), ECF No. 28. The Court denies the motion for reasons that follow.1
1 In addition to denying the State Department’s motion for summary judgment, this Court also denies the State Department’s alternative motion to dismiss. Tyson v. Brennan, 306 F. Supp. 3d 365, 369 (D.D.C. 2017); Brooks v. Kerry, 37 F. Supp. 3d 187, 199 (D.D.C. 2014). For clarity’s sake, this memorandum opinion will refer to the State Department’s motion as a motion for summary judgment.
4 If a job candidate qualifies for higher pay based on a “superior qualifications determination,” Joint Statement ¶ 16, then the person could receive a superior qualification rate of pay, which compensates the individual because the employer based on the individual’s experience “may reasonably expect a higher level of performance beyond the requirements of the job,” id. ¶ 35.
5 This Court concludes that embassy management’s comments about Ms. Smith’s Romanian ethnicity do not constitute direct evidence of discrimination, but rather may “be probative of discrimination” under the burden-shifting framework in place for claims reliant on indirect evidence of discrimination. Isse v. Am. Univ., 540 F. Supp. 2d 9, 30 (D.D.C. 2008); Brady v. Livingood, 456 F. Supp. 2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2006) (noting that “direct evidence does not include stray remarks in the workplace”). In addition, Ms. Smith’s contention that she received lower pay based in part on her national origin satisfies the requirement that a Title VII discrimination plaintiff show that she suffered an adverse employment action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (making it unlawful to discriminate with respect to “compensation”); Russell v. Principi, 257 F.3d 815, 819 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

I. Background
An American citizen of Romanian national origin, Mihaela Biliovschi Smith accompanied her husband Derrin Ray Smith to Yaoundé, Cameroon in August 2014.2 See Joint Chronological.

Statement of Material Facts (“Joint Statement”), ECF No. 38 at ¶¶ 1–3. Mr. Smith ventured to Africa to work as a foreign service officer with the U.S. embassy. Id. ¶ 3. During their first year in Cameroon together, Mr. and Ms. Smith attended an embassy-hosted dinner where the deputy chief of the embassy, Greg Thome, allegedly told Ms. Smith at the dinner table that her “country right now is the United States of America” and that “at the State Department, we don’t work for the interests of the Romanians.” Id. ¶ 5. Thome, Ms. Smith also claims, later inquired into whether she “spoke Russian.” Id. ¶ 13. Ms. Smith perceived Thome’s comments related to her Romanian ethnicity as odd, discomforting, and concerning. Derrin Ray Smith Decl. (“Smith Decl.”), ECF No. 31-8 at 2. Yet neither Ms. Smith nor her husband apparently took action in response.

Early in 2015, Ms. Smith applied for a position with the embassy as a “Media Outreach Assistant.” See Joint Statement ¶¶ 6, 10.3 She got the job. Id. ¶ 14. The job offer stated that Ms. Smith would begin her employment with the embassy at an entry-level pay rate. Id. ¶ 15. Upon receipt of the offer, Ms. Smith requested that the State Department conduct a superior qualifications rate review to determine whether she qualified for higher pay. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. 4 The assistant in the human resources department in charge of preparing Ms. Smith’s hiring documents thought that Ms. Smith might qualify for a higher rate based on her “expansive knowledge” and experiential background. Id. ¶ 38.

Yet a higher-level manager in the human resources department, Charles Morrill, made the decision not to submit Ms. Smith’s paperwork for a superior qualifications review, id. ¶ 44, and when he informed her of that decision, he referenced her Romanian perspective and Balkanized mindset. Id. ¶ 51. When asked in his deposition to clarify these comments, Morrill stated that he knew the “mindset” of Romanians based on his experience working with “Eastern Europeans.” Charles Morrill Dep. (“Morrill’s Dep.”), ECF No. 28-9 at 4–5. He added that people from that part of the world hold a world view that “people are out to get you.” Id. at 5. The decision not to submit the paperwork generated conflict between Ms. Smith and embassy management. Ms. Smith nonetheless accepted the offer of employment.
[…]
In December 2018, Ms. Smith filed this lawsuit against her employer for discrimination and for creating a retaliatory and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 55–60. The State Department has moved to for summary judgment on all of Ms. Smith’s claims.
[…]
Because a reasonable juror could find, based on the present record, that Ms. Smith suffered discrimination on the basis of national origin and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her sex and her engagement in protected activity, it would be inappropriate to grant the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. The State Department’s Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore Denied. An Order will be entered contemporaneously with this Memorandum Opinion.

The Memorandum of Opinion signed by Judge Carl J. Nichols of the District Court of the District of Columbia is available via public records here.

 

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EEOC: @StateDept Liable For Supervisor’s Harassment of Pregnant Subordinate at US Mission/UNVIE

Via EEOC: Cecille W. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2019001540 (Aug. 19, 2020).
Sex Discrimination & Sexual Harassment Found.  Complainant, an Assistant Public Affairs Officer, filed a formal complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of sex (pregnancy) when her work responsibilities were altered; she received written performance counseling; and she was subjected to a hostile work environment, including receiving inappropriate comments and being excluded from meetings and emails.  On appeal, the Commission found that Complainant was subjected to discrimination and harassment as alleged.  The record showed that Complainant’s work duties were altered due to her pregnancy, and the Agency incorrectly concluded otherwise.  Complainant’s supervisor specifically stated that she could not supervise Complainant if Complainant was pregnant, and Complainant then ceased performing tasks that were under the supervisor’s purview.  The Agency also excluded Complainant from certain weekly meetings at the supervisor’s request.  The Agency conceded that Complainant was subjected to harassment based on sex that affected a term or condition of her employment.  The Commission found that the Agency was liable for the harassment.  The Commission noted that the Agency could not use an affirmative defense because Complainant’s changed work duties constituted a tangible employment action.  Furthermore, even if there were no tangible employment actions, the Agency failed to take prompt and effective action when it failed to fully remove the responsible management official from supervisory authority over Complainant.  The Agency was ordered, among other things, to investigate Complainant’s claim for compensatory damages, and reinstate Complainant’s assignments.  Cecille W. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2019001540 (Aug. 19, 2020).
This Assistant Public Affairs Officer’s EEO case was investigated by the State Department (that would be S/OCR).
“The Agency concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected her to discrimination or harassment as alleged.”
BUT.
The EEOC found that the Complainant “has proven that she was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex as alleged.”
The Commission concluded that “Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein” and reversed the Agency’s final decision.
It also remanded the case to the State Department for further processing in accordance with its decision and remedial actions ordered to include among other things, complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages, disciplinary actions against responsible management officials, and a requirement of “no less than eight (8) hours of appropriate in-person or interactive training to the management officials involved in this case regarding their obligations under Title VII with special emphasis on harassment and responding to claims of harassment.”‘
Note that EEOC cases have randomly assigned pseudonyms which replace Complainants’ names when decisions are published to non-parties and the Commission’s website.
Excerpts:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as an Assistant Public Affairs Officer (APAO), FS-04, at the Agency’s U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria.

Complainant identified her first-level supervisor (S1), a Public Affairs Officer (PAO), as the individual who discriminated against and subjected her to a hostile work environment.

Complainant stated that over a series of days in early October 2017, following S1’s miscarriage, S1 sent Complainant Facebook messages discussing S1’s miscarriage, desire to curtail, and disappointment with how she felt that Complainant was treating her. Complainant averred that prior to October 2017, she and S1 were friends. However, S1 informed Complainant that she could no longer supervise her following her miscarriage and Complainant’s pregnancy.
[…]
On October 30, 2017, Complainant and S1 participated in mediation. Following the mediation, the mediator expressed concern that due to personal circumstances, S1 was hypersensitive to remarks and interaction with Complainant. The mediator stated that the it was “clear that [S1] rationalized her decisions as business appropriate and not based on personal situations.” The mediator added that S1’s remarks and the timing of events made it clear that S1 wanted to minimize contact with Complainant, however, it “look[ed] on face value as an effort to remove [Complainant] from places [S1] is attending and appears to lessen the exposure of [Complainant] to people and meetings she attended for over a year and a half.”

On November 3, 2017, management officials counseled S1, stating that they did not believe that S1 could properly carry out her supervisory responsibilities if she minimized direct contact with Complainant. Management officials informed S1 that excluding Complainant from Senior Staff meetings and removing her from the Senior Staff distribution list was inappropriate. On November 6, 2017, Complainant informed Human Resources officials that she was removed from her social media duties and inquired about what options were available.

On November 15, 2017, the Chargé d’Affaires informed Complainant that she wanted Complainant to attend Senior Staff meetings but did not feel the same way about the PAS meeting. She acknowledged that Complainant was experiencing a very difficult situation, stating “we know it is a bad situation and we want to, and are trying, to find a solution.” On the following day, Complainant informed the Chargé d’Affaires and S2 that the daily situation was worsening and complained of minimal communication from S1 and uncertainty about her portfolio because S1 outsourced areas of her portfolio. Complainant added that S1 did not talk to her, make eye contact, or provide information. In response, the Chargé d’Affaires informed Complainant that “if a simple solution existed, it would have been found and acted upon immediately.” She assured Complainant that she was involved in daily meetings and discussions to find a solution.

On November 20, 2017, Agency officials informed Complainant that her rater would be changed from S1 to S2. Further, coordination between Complainant and S1 would be conducted through email. Finally, Complainant would continue to attend Senior Staff meetings.

On November 30, 2017, Complainant reported that S1 remained in a position “where she is exercising biased supervision and decision-making over my work.”

On December 13, 2017, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of sex (pregnancy) when:

1. On October 15, 2017, Complainant’s work responsibilities were altered;

2. In October 2017, Complainant received written performance counseling; and

3. Complainant was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to inappropriate comments and being excluded from meetings and emails.

[…]
The Agency has already conceded in its final decision that Complainant established the first four elements of her prima facie hostile work environment case. The Agency held that Complainant failed to establish that it was liable for the hostile work environment, as it had established an affirmative defense. However, with respect to vicarious liability, element (5), the affirmative defense is not available to the Agency because we have found that S1’s actions culminated in a tangible employment action, changed worked duties.

Moreover, even if there was no tangible employment action, we find that the Agency failed to take prompt and effective action when it was notified of S1’s harassment of Complainant. While we acknowledge that the Agency initiated an informal investigation, counseled S1, and instituted a “carve-out” for evaluation purposes, we find that these actions were insufficient to meet the Agency’s full responsibility to take appropriate corrective action. ROI, at 500-501, 548-549, 599- 600, 621-623. Specifically, the Agency failed to fully remove S1 from supervisory authority over Complainant. According to counseling notes, it was S1 who stated that she did not want to rate Complainant and Agency officials initially encouraged S1 to work with Complainant despite the Agency’s contention that it did so at Complainant’s request. ROI, at 538-540. For example, on November 3, 2017, the Agency counseled S1 regarding her supervision of Complainant and instructed S1 to “provide regular guidance and coaching to help her develop professionally.” Id. at 538. The record further shows that S1 still exercised some level of control over Complainant’s work beyond November 2017 when the Agency changed Complainant’s rater.

For example, S2 “counseled [S1] to let Complainant know if there was action she should be taking that she was not” in December 2017. ROI, at 554. Even in January 2018, S1 continued to email Complainant in a supervisor capacity. Id. at 313-314. The record reflects that although S1 was removed from completing Complainant’s rating, S1 continued to harass Complainant. Complainant indicated that she reported the harassment, but it continued. Taking only some remedial action does not absolve the Agency of liability where that action is ineffective. Logsdon v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120081287 (Apr. 23, 2009).

The Agency asserted that it further took detailed and effective action when Complainant was offered an alternative position, which she declined, as a solution to her concerns. However, remedial measures should not adversely affect the complainant and Complainant viewed the offer as punitive. Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors, EEOC Notice No. 915.002 (June 18, 1999), at 28-9. If it is necessary to separate the parties, then the harasser should be transferred (unless the complainant prefers otherwise). Id. The Agency did not move S1, despite requests from Complainant and S1, until April 2018 while Complainant was on maternity leave. We find that the Agency failed to take prompt and effective action. Accordingly, we find that the Agency is liable for S1’s harassment of Complainant. For the foregoing reasons, we find that Complainant has proven that she was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex as alleged.

CONCLUSION Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we REVERSE the Agency’s final decision and REMAND the matter to the Agency for further processing in accordance with this decision and the ORDER below.

ORDER The Agency is ordered to take the following remedial action:

1. Within ninety (90) calendar days from the date this decision is issued, the Agency shall conduct a supplemental investigation of Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. The Agency is directed to inform Complainant about the legal standards associated with providing compensatory damages and give Complainant examples of the types of evidence used to support a claim for compensatory damages. Complainant shall be given 30 calendar days from the date she receives the Agency’s notice to provide all supporting evidence of her claim for compensatory damages. Within thirty (30) calendar days of the date the Agency receives Complainant’s submission, the Agency shall issue a new final decision determining Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages, together with appropriate appeal rights.

2. Within ninety (90) days of the date this decision is issued, provide no less than eight (8) hours of appropriate in-person or interactive training to the management officials involved 9 2019001540 in this case regarding their obligations under Title VII with special emphasis on harassment and responding to claims of harassment. The Commission recommends that the Agency review the following EEOC publication: Enforcement Guidance: Vicarious Liability for Unlawful Harassment by Supervisors (June 18, 1999).

3. The Agency shall consider taking disciplinary action against the responsible management officials. The Commission does not consider training to be disciplinary action. The Agency shall report its decision to the compliance officer. 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. If any of the responsible management officials have left the Agency’s employ, the Agency shall furnish documentation of their departure date(s).

4. Within thirty (30) days of the date this decision is issued, the Agency shall reinstate Complainant’s assignments changed by S1 and remove all documentation and references to the October 2017 written performance counseling from all personnel records, including Complainant’s official personnel files.

5. The Agency shall post a notice in accordance with the Posting Order below. The Agency is further 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 verifying that the corrective action has been implemented.

Read the full case here: Cecille W. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 2019001540 (Aug. 19, 2020).

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

13 Going on 14 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

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

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

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

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

Background:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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FSGB Annual Report 2018: Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

 

The following is excerpted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2018. This is a good time to remind folks that while names/posts and identifying details are typically redacted from the Record of Proceedings (ROPs) routinely posted in the publicly available website fsgb.gov, once the case is filed in federal court, the records are usually publicly accessible and are unredacted (unless the case is sealed).

As described in last year’s report, USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. After two hearings, the Board approved the agency’s decision. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In a decision issued October 12, 2018, the court upheld the Board’s decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. The grievant has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the District Court’s and Board’s construction of section 7(b) of the IG Act, which protects the confidentiality of employee informants.

In FSGB Case No. 2014-018, the grievant 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; under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued January 19, 2018, the D.C. district court found that the regulation denying waivers to estates was valid, but that the FSGB 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 for the Department and the Board to decide the request for the waiver on its merits. The waiver request is currently pending with the Department.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2015-016 filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 against the Department and his former rater and reviewer requesting monetary damages related to the Board’s denial of his grievance. He had contested two EERs and a low ranking. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely in a decision issued March 30, 2018. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that decision on December 28, 2018.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-005 contended that he was deprived of certain benefits, such as promotion consideration, during a five-year assignment to an international organization. The Department found him ineligible for the benefits because his assignment to the organization was effected through a “separation and transfer” agreement, rather than a “detail.” The Board affirmed the Department’s decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colombia upheld that decision on appeal in a decision issued in 2016. The grievant had also appealed the Board’s decision in a second, related, case, FSGB Case No 2014-024, in which he had claimed certain benefits based upon his separation and transfer and subsequent reemployment with the Department. The Board dismissed his second grievance on the grounds of claims preclusion. In a decision issued March 14, 2018, the district court concluded that the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law and dismissed his claims. The grievant appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and that matter remains pending.

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 with the Department challenging her transfer on several bases. The Department denied the grievance, and the grievant appealed to the Board. The Board denied all of grievant’s claims. It further found that, since no statute or regulation had been violated, it lacked jurisdiction to overturn an assignment decision. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. In a decision issued September 24, 2018, the court affirmed the Board’s decision.

Decisions were issued this year in two other cases filed by the same grievant, stemming from the same sets of circumstances but not involving appeals of Department or Board grievances. The grievant filed a case under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and benefits. She claimed that the Department discriminated against her by paying her less and providing her with fewer benefits than a similarly-situated male employee. The court initially dismissed the case, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the same appeal was pending in another court at the time she filed. However, that decision was overturned by the circuit court and the case was remanded to the Court of Claims. The grievant also filed two identical complaints in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Department under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In both cases, the court dismissed all but one of the claims. The grievant also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging nearly identical discrimination and retaliation by the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has stayed its proceedings pending a decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands case.

An appeal of the Board’s 2017 decision by the State Department and USAID/OIG in another long-running case remains pending in the D.C. District Court following briefing of crossmotions for summary judgment in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ). As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-031 contested the 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. In 2014, the Board initially upheld the agency’s decision. On grievant’s appeal, the district court in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board in FSGB Case No. 2013-031R and No. 2016-030 issued a decision granting the grievant 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 (KBJ).

The 2015 Annual Report reported that the grievant filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 in Federal District Court, District of Colombia, claiming that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act when it separated her. That appeal is still pending.

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EEOC: Sex Discrimination and Reprisal Found in USAID Case

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

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

Sex Discrimination & Reprisal Found.

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

Burn Bag: @StateDept’s Reasonable Accommodation For a Pregnant Diplomatic Courier?

Via Burn Bag:

Pregnant diplomatic courier told to use a portable travel toilet, undress in the presence of LES driver and urinate in the back of the truck. This is the best accommodation her supervisor and DRAD* could come up with. Another example of **pregnancy discrimination that is running rampant in the State Department.

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Physical requirements  via careers.state.gov:

A Diplomatic Courier must have the physical endurance to withstand the physical stresses from working long hours, lack of sleep, extremes of heat or cold, and other discomforts and the physical strength to lift and move heavy and/or oversized items such as diplomatic pouches and crates that may weigh as much as 70 pounds or carry heavy equipment. A Diplomatic Courier is required to perform work that requires regular and recurring periods of prolonged sitting, standing, bending, and stretching and is often required to physically move and transport heavy items; that could involve climbing ladders and working in and around aircraft, trucks, trains, aboard ships, etc. Related activities include crawling, maneuvering, and working in cramped spaces.

3 FAM 3350 | LEAVE AND REASSIGNMENT OF DUTIES FOR MATERNITY AND PATERNITY REASONS

* HR/OAA/DRAD is the Disability and Reasonable Accommodations Division in the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations, Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department

** The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. See more: https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fah03/03fah030110.html#H112

 

They’re Making a List, and Checking It Twice #ManOhManOhMan

When you hear that lists sent to DCM Committees have been adjusted by gender for those appointees who are insisting on a man (!) as their Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) or Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS). And you’re still waiting for anyone at DGHR to inform everyone that no committee will entertain any list that promotes, assists, or enables sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

via giphy

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EEOC Affirms No Reprisal in Quick Termination of a Foreign Affairs Officer

Posted: 12:33 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

Via eeoc.gov

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Foreign Affairs Officer, GS-11 at the Agency’s Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis, Bureau of Diplomatic Security facility in Rosslyn, Virginia. Complainant was terminated during her two-year probationary period, effective November 25, 2013. Management indicated that after a very good start, Complainant’s work product deteriorated in that her written articles required substantial editing. Complainant was advised to take basic writing and analysis courses to help correct her deficiencies. Complainant maintained that management’s comments about her writing were unsupported as the complaints she received were arbitrary and style comments and not comments regarding substance. On June 13, 2013, Complainant and a Special Agent had a disagreement when Complainant made a comment about Special Agents and he took offense. He yelled and cursed at Complainant while she was at her desk. Complainant indicated that she felt threatened because he had his gun on his waist. Following this argument, the Special Agent reported the incident to management. Management informed the Special Agent that his conduct was not acceptable. Management also spoke with Complainant, and the two apologized to each other. Therefore, management believed that the incident was over. Two days later, the Special Agent was made the team leader of Complainant’s unit. Complainant believed that, based on the verbal assault, his promotion was in retaliation against her. Complainant also maintained that after she filed her EEO complaint management engaged in other conduct which ultimately led to her termination.

On August 16, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

1. On July 15, 2013, her portfolio responsibilities for Turkey were removed;
2. On July 31 and August 5, 2013, her requests for training were denied;
3. On August 1, 2013, she received a negative memorandum that served as her mid-year review regarding her performance;
4. On August 6, 2013, she was reassigned to the DS/Public Affairs Office;
5. On August 8, 2013, management informed her that her SCI security clearance and partial building access would be removed; and
6. Effective November 25, 2013, she was terminated from Employment.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Agency provided Complainant with a copy of the report of investigation and notice of her right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge. When Complainant did not request a hearing within the time frame provided in 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108(f), the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). The decision concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected her to reprisal as alleged.

Specifically, the Agency determined that even if it assumed Complainant established a prima facie case of reprisal, there were legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions.

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that she was subjected to reprisal is AFFIRMED.
[…]
To show pretext, Complainant argued that reprisal was a factor in Management’s action in Claim 1 because her portfolio was changed after she informed management of her intent to file an EEO complaint regarding the Special Agent incident. With respect to Claims 2 – 6, Complainant asserted that the manner in which she was treated with regard to training, her performance review, her detail, her security clearance and her termination was in retaliation for her initiation of an EEO complaint. The FAD found that Complainant’s subjective beliefs, without any evidence to support those beliefs were not evidence of pretext. No evidence in the record supported Complainant’s claim that any of the described actions were taken due to her EEO activity. According to the Agency, the record strongly supported management’s account of the events. Therefore, the Agency found that Complainant could not meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that management’s reasons were untrue or unworthy of credence.

CONTENTIONS ON APPEAL

On appeal, Complainant reiterates her contention that two days after she reported the verbal assault by the Special Agent, he became her team leader, which she believes was undoubtedly an act of retaliation. Complainant maintains that on July 1, 2013, she reported to management that her working conditions were intolerable and that she was contacting the EEO office. Complainant also indicates that after she filed her complaint all adverse performance related issues were documented. On July 15, 2013, she maintains that she received an Unacceptable Performance Memorandum, indicating that her writing style was too academic. Complainant contends that she was held to a higher standard than needed and that in order to keep her job she needed only to get a fully successful rating, not an outstanding. Complainant also asserts that she should have been placed on a PIP before she was removed. Finally, Complainant maintained that work was late only when the Agency had not properly staffed the unit and she was there in the unit alone doing the work of three people. Complainant again asserts that in retaliation for her EEO complaint she was terminated on November 25, 2013.

In response, the Agency requests that the FAD be affirmed as Complainant did not show that the Agency erred in finding that she did not prove her case.

ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we find that even if we assume arguendo that Complainant established a prima facie case of reprisal, the Agency articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions as addressed above. To show pretext, Complainant, among other things, maintained that the comments made about her written work product were arbitrary and concerned matters of style. She maintained that after she filed her EEO complaint criticisms about her work product increased. We find however, that the record supports the Agency’s position that Complainant was repeatedly spoken to regarding her work product and she did not conform to management’s concerns.

With respect to Complainant’s arguments on appeal, we find that other than her conclusory statements she has not provided persuasive evidence that she was subjected to reprisal. Complainant asserts that the Special Agent that assaulted her verbally was promoted to the team leader in order to retaliate against her. Notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support this contention, we note that the record indicates that the Special Agent never took the position. Complainant also maintained that if there were real concerns about her work that she should have been placed on a PIP. We find however that the Agency adequately explained that probationary employees do not have access to the PIP program. Finally, Complainant also maintained that due to a lack of staff on several occasions she was left alone and during those times she needed to request extensions for her work. While this may be true, we find that Complainant did not show how this was related to her claim of reprisal. Complainant acknowledged that she was left alone because her coworkers got off work at an earlier time than she did. With regard to Complainant’s termination during her probationary period, the Commission has long held that an Agency has broad discretion in terminating an employee during their probationary period as long as it is not for discriminatory reasons. In the instant case, we find no persuasive evidence of a discriminatory motivation.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that she was subjected to reprisal is AFFIRMED.

Read in full here.

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U.S. Embassy’s Nurse Nightmare Not Subjected to Discrimination, EEOC Affirms

Posted: 1:24 am ET
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Via eeoc.gov:

This EEOC case involves an embassy nurse who filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in 2013. Two things are striking about this case: 1) there was an incident that according to the EEOC decision involved the Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku; and 2) an incident where the Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. On March 2017, the EEOC affirmed the State Department’s  decision that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment.

BACKGROUND

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Locally Employed Staff (LES), Registered Nurse at the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. On October 1, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him on the bases of national origin (Azerbaijani), sex (male), religion (Muslim), and reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

(1) On May 24, 2013, he was issued a Letter of Reprimand;

(2) His EPR reporting period was extended beyond the one-year calendar cycle, contrary to normal practice;

(3) On September 10, 2013, his position was terminated; and

(4) He was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited
to isolation from co-workers, threats, and demeaning and inappropriate comments.

After the investigation, the Agency provided Complainant with a copy of the report of investigation and notice of his right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge. When Complainant did not request a hearing within the time frame provided, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). The Agency found that, assuming Complainant established a prima facie case of discrimination and reprisal with respect to all his bases, management articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions.

Regarding issue 1, Complainant was issued a Letter of Reprimand because in early May 2013 management was notified by their contacts at the Anti-Plague Section (APS) of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Health that Complainant had called them, yelled at their employee who had answered the call and when the employee refused to identify himself, Complainant called the Ministry of Health wherein he stated his name and indicated that he was calling from the American Embassy. He then proceeded to complain about the APS. Management indicated that this event damaged their relationship with the Ministry of Health. The Human Resources Officer indicated that she had to apologize and promise that Complainant would be re-trained on telephone etiquette.

Regarding issue number 2, the Agency explained that Complainant’s reporting period was extended beyond the one-year cycle because he had been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in November 2012, to address several issues, e.g., exceeding the legal scope of his nursing license. Shortly after he was placed on the PIP, Complainant took an extended period of leave beginning on November 29, 2012 and ending January 7, 2013. Because Complainant had been off work for more than eight weeks of the 120-day PIP period, the decision was made to extend the PIP for an additional 60 days. The Human Resources Officer advised that the 60-day extension period began on March 23, 2013 and concluded on May 24, 2013.

With respect to issue 3, Complainant’s September 10, 2013, termination. Complainant argued that his termination was due to complaints he made about unfair treatment and a hostile work environment. Management explained that Complainant’s termination was due to three instances of misconduct. The first incident involved the telephone call that was described in issue 1. The second incident involved Complainant’s actions during a visit to a local hospital. According to the record, Complainant was so rude that “a letter [was] signed by all Azerbaijani doctors, nurses, and administrative staff that had been present” documenting his behavior and it was sent to the Embassy in Baku. The third incident occurred when Complainant had been engaged in a political debate with members of the Embassy motor pool staff. He became angry and “stormed out” of the area then, within five minutes, Complainant called their supervisor “demanding” that the four drivers see him to be medically evaluated for their fitness for work. Complainant’s supervisor determined that he was “us[ing] [his] position to bully other colleagues when [he was] angry.” Complainant’s supervisor maintained that Complainant was terminated because, among other reasons, she needed to protect the other employees from his abusive and erratic behavior. The supervisor felt that to allow Complainant to continue working as a caregiver when people were afraid of him was not prudent or reasonable, and that his actions reflected badly on the U.S. Government.

Finally, with regard to issue 4, Complainant alleged that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, when: he complained that he found Halloween decorations offensive; an employee from another organization “made a few remarks about his beard,” including that it made him look “like one of [the]bad guys;” written “Workplace Conduct Expectations,” were issued because of him; his supervisor claimed that in the Azerbaijani culture, girls get married at around 13 years of age and Complainant found this to be a stereotype that he found offensive; and he had a conversation with a coworker where he believed the coworker was insinuating that people living in Azerbaijan were not able to seek their rights.

Complainant maintained that he went to outside officials because he could not resolve his problems with management since they were harassing him. He maintained that the alleged harassment affected him because it made him “emotionally less stable, depressed and easier irritated.” He also alleged that he experienced medical problems and started taking medication due to the alleged harassment.

Management maintained, among other things, that Complainant believed that policies were being applied to him and were personal attacks against him. Management indicated, however, that Complainant was not subjected to harassment. Management explained that after Complainant indicated that he was uncomfortable with the Halloween decorations they were taken down. Further, the comments made about his beard were made from an employee from another agency and there was no evidence that the comment was made in a hostile manner. Management indicated that the “Workplace Conduct Expectations” did not just apply to Complainant. Regarding Complainant’s claim that his supervisor commented that Azerbaijani girls as young as 13 years were married, she indicated that she had been invited to give a talk to young women in the villages about nutrition and health. In doing research in advance of her speech, she had asked Complainant what types of situations young girls faced (e.g., HIV, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases), at which time Complainant told her that girls as young as 13 years old were often married. She emphasized Complainant never told her he believed he was being subjected to a hostile work environment.

Management indicated that Complainant was not subjected to harassment, as the issues claimed were not severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

The decision concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination, reprisal, and/or harassment as alleged.
[…]
ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we find that even if we assume arguendo that Complainant established a prima facie case of religion, sex, and national origin, discrimination and reprisal, the Agency articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, as listed above. We find that Complainant has provided no evidence which suggests that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination or that discriminatory animus was involved in this matter. The record clearly showed that Complainant had a history of inappropriate and inflammatory behavior in the workplace. The Commission has long held that the Agency has broad discretion regarding its hiring and firing practices unless discrimination is shown. Accordingly, we find that discrimination has not been shown in this case. We also find that Complainant did not establish that he had been subjected to unlawful harassment in this case because the purported conduct, assuming it occurred as alleged, was neither severe or pervasive enough to establish a hostile work environment.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that he was subjected to discrimination, reprisal and/or harassment is AFFIRMED.

The full decision is available to read here.

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