EEOC: US Embassy Yemen FSN Discrimination Claim Over Denial of Overtime Fails

 

This is an instructive case for local employees of U.S. missions overseas. Even during a crisis, especially during a crisis, during chaos, even during evacuations, if a local employee is tasked to do work outside or normal work hours, there must be overtime pre-approval by the the supervisor (typically this means the American officer-supervisor).   In this EEOC case, the local employee claimed 1,952 hours of overtime for work purportedly done from 2015-2019. Without documented pre-approval by the American supervisor, Uncle Sam is not obligated to pay.
Even if a supervisor  or some other embassy official asked for work to be done; even if work was actually done as requested …if there’s no record or documentation regarding the overtime requests or preapproval for the overtime “as required”, there would be “no basis to grant the overtime pay.”
All good supervisors and decent human beings hopefully will ensure that pre-approvals are made and granted before any work requests are made of the local staff. Otherwise, you’ll be asking, and no one will be paying …. and that would disturb one’s conscience. Or should.
Via EEOC Appeal No. 2020003186:
At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Defensive Security  Coordinator, Grade 10, at the Agency’s U.S. Embassy in Yemen. On April 30, 2019, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment on the bases of race (Arabian) and national origin (Yemen) when:

1. Complainant was denied overtime compensation for work he performed since 2015, and as recently as April 3, 2019;

2. Complainant has been denied a higher base salary level commensurate with his other American citizen colleagues; and
3. He was subjected to a hostile work environment, characterized by, but not limited to, his supervisor’s requests that he return his U.S. government-issued vehicle.  The most recent request was March 18, 2019.
Complainant was hired by the Agency in 2010, as a Local Hire under the Local Hire Program at the U.S. Embassy. Complainant has dual citizenship; he was born in Yemen and became an American citizen on September 22, 2006. He averred management knew his race and national origin because he was a Local Hire.

Claim 1 – Denial of Overtime (OT) Compensation since 2015

Complainant claimed that he held two different positions with the Agency. First, Complainant stated that he performed Defensive Security Coordinator duties from January 2014 to July 2019. Complainant stated that he had been granted overtime for years in this position prior to the Embassy’s evacuation in 2015. Secondly, Complainant claimed that he performed Regional Security Officer (RSO)/Team Lead duties from February 2015 to November 2015. Complainant claimed that his duties increased after taking on that role. Complainant alleged that he was called at all hours of the day and night.


On February 12, 2015, the Embassy where he worked was forced to evacuate. Shortly thereafter, in March, war ensued. After Complainant worked to coordinate the evacuation, he returned to the U.S. The Embassy suspended operations in 2015. The record indicates that Complainant’s entire work history was destroyed along with all other employee files that were kept onsite. The record indicates, however, that he remained on the Agency rolls until July 2019.


Complainant stated that after the evacuation, his work continued and he says his responsibilities escalated, but he was not fairly compensated. Complainant alleged that he sent an email to management officials, including his supervisor at the time (S1-2), listing all of the dates he worked overtime but he received no response. Further, Complainant claimed that he was told that they would try to process it, but he might have to wait until the Embassy reopened.


S1-2 acknowledged that Complainant held the Defensive Security Coordinator position and was eligible for overtime, but only with a prior authorization from his supervisor. He averred that he was the one to approve, but he averred “no requests for overtime were made.” S1-2 further confirmed, however, that Complainant provided information in support of his claim for 1,952 hours of overtime. S1-2 said that he forwarded the overtime claim to the Department and asked Complainant for further documentation.


Complainant submitted an email to his supervisor regarding his overtime on December 12, 2018, and after he did not receive a reply, he reached out to the Office of Civil Rights.

He received a reply on April 3, 2019. In the response, S1-2 informed Complainant that there was no record or documentation regarding his overtime requests or preapproval for the overtime as was required. Therefore, there was no basis to grant the overtime pay.

Claim 2 – Denial of Higher Compensation Given to American Colleagues

While working in the RSO section, Complainant believed that he was entitled to a higher base salary. Complainant averred that he should have received a new contract, inasmuch as he was promised a promotion. Complainant alleged that his former supervisor (S1-1) tasked him with controlling everything but did not ensure that he was compensated fairly. In addition, Complainant alleged that numerous officials over the years failed to ensure that he was compensated fairly or transition his job status. Complainant asserted that all of the issues stemmed from the fact that he was hired as a Locally Employed Staff. Complainant averred that, unlike his non-Arabian colleagues, he had to pay for his family to evacuate Yemen because of the war, but the government paid for the other employees’ families to evacuate. Complainant state that he was also put on at least one Reduction-in-Force list, but the notice was rescinded.
[…]
Complainant averred that he thought he could “work his way up” because of his American citizenship status. He acknowledged that he was hired as a Locally Employed Staff employee, which does not have a Career Ladder progression.

Claim 3 – Hostile Work Environment/Demand for Vehicle Return

Before the February 2015 evacuation of the Embassy where Complainant worked, he had been assigned a vehicle. The car is still parked at his relatives’ home in Yemen. When he and others were forced to flee in 2015, it was assumed that he would be able to come back in about a month.
He averred the Agency stopped him from going back because of the risks for him. On February 4, 2019, S1-2 issued a directive that the car be returned to service. The two communicated via email during the period February 23, 2019 to March 14, 2019. Complainant told him that he
feared his family would be placed in danger if the vehicle was retrieved. To protect his family still in Yemen, Complainant asked for certain safeguards. There were no further communications after April 2019.
[…]
In the decision, the Agency found that Complainant was not subjected to discrimination as alleged.
[…]
Upon review of the record, we find that Complainant has not presented sufficient argument or evidence to establish that the Agency’s explanations for its actions were pretext intended to mask discriminatory motivation. As a result, we find that Complainant was not subjected to the discrimination as alleged.

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Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State: U.S. Passport Revocation After Almost 30 Years

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Excerpt from Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State/Memorandum of Opinion March 17, 2021:

Plaintiff Abdo Ali (“plaintiff’ or “Ali’”) brings this action under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) against the U.S. Department of State (“State Department” or “defendant”), seeking an order setting aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s U.S. passport.
[…]
Ali currently resides in Oxford, Mississippi, but he was born in Yemen in 1979. At the time, Ali’s father was a U.S. citizen, having naturalized approximately ten and a half years earlier in January 1969. Compl. 4 8. In 1990, Ali was first issued a U.S. passport under Section 301(g) of the INA on the grounds that he was a child of a U.S. citizen, who, prior to Ali’s birth, had been present in the U.S. for at least ten years, including at least five while he was older than fourteen. Jd. 410. Ali entered the United States in 1994 and was issued passport renewals in 1999 and 2009. Id. § 13. Because passports “may be issued only to a U.S. national,” 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), the initial issuance of Ali’s passport and the subsequent renewals necessarily constituted findings that Ali was a U.S. national. See Compl. ff 14, 19. On January 8, 2019, however, the State Department revoked Ali’s passport on the ground that he was not a U.S. national. Id. ¥ 15; see also 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b) (“The Department may revoke a passport when the Department has determined that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national.”). In a letter to Ali, the State Department explained its decision by noting that sometime after the 2009 renewal, “[a]n investigation .. . revealed that [Ali’s] father was not physically present in the United States for ten years before [Ali’s] birth,” as was then required by Section 301(g) of the INA. See Ex. A to Pl.’s Opp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss (“PI.’s Opp.’””) [Dkt. #9-1] at 1.! The letter cited documentation supporting its position but lacked any explanation as to why the State Department had initially issued Ali a passport and subsequently renewed it twice. Jd.; Compl. 418.

On May 30, 2020, Ali filed this suit under the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., seeking to set aside the revocation decision. See Compl. at 8. The complaint alleges that, “to the best of his knowledge,” Ali is a citizen and national of the United States, id. { 3, and that the State Department’s decision to revoke his passport was “arbitrary . . . as well as not being in accordance with law.” Id. § 1. In the alternative, the complaint states that “even if [Ali] is not a national of the United States,” the revocation should still be set aside because the State Department “is estopped by laches and equitable estoppel from revoking [] Ali’s passport.” Jd. § 2.
[…]
In an attempt to avoid the preclusive effect of § 1503(a), Ali argues in the alternative that he is permitted to proceed with this suit under the APA regardless of whether he is, in fact, a U.S. national. See Pl.’s Opp. at 3 (invoking this Court’s equitable powers under the doctrines of laches and estoppel). Under this theory, plaintiff would have the Court set aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s passport even though he fails to allege that he meets the necessary precondition for a U.S. passport—being a U.S. national, 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a). See Pl.’s Mot. at 4—5 n.2 (stating that Ali does not “claim unequivocally” that he is a U.S. national, but “maintains that .. . even if he is not a U.S. national, the [State] Department should be estopped from denying it”). Unfortunately for plaintiff, this I cannot do.

The power to issue passports rests solely in the Secretary of State or a designee. 22 U.S.C. § 211a (providing that the Secretary possesses the authority to “grant and issue passports .. . and no other person shall grant, issue, or verify such passports”). Passports may only be issued to U.S. nationals, see 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), and the State Department may revoke those passports when it determines that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national. 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b); see also 22 U.S.C. § 212 (“No passport shall be granted or issued to or verified for any other persons than those owing allegiance, whether citizens or not, to the United States.”’).

The Court’s power to craft equitable remedies, while broad, does not permit it to interfere with this statutory and regulatory scheme. See INS v. Pangilinan, 486 U.S. 875, 883-84 (1988) (holding courts’ equitable authority does not extend to crafting remedies contrary to Congressional statutes). Especially in the immigration context, the Court may not rely on the doctrine of laches or the doctrine of equitable estoppel to override public policy as established by Congress. See id. at 885 (“Neither by application of the doctrine of estoppel, nor by invocation of equitable powers, nor by any other means does a court have the power to confer citizenship in violation of [statutory limitations].”).

Congress has established that only U.S. nationals may receive a passport. See 22 U.S.C. § 212. It has also provided, through 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a), a mechanism to challenge agency determinations that an individual is not a U.S. national. But where a _ plaintiff refuses to pursue this avenue of relief, courts may not grant through alternative equitable means what is effectively the same result—a determination that the State Department must treat plaintiff as if he is a U.S. national. See Pangilinan, 486 U.S. at 883-84.

Accordingly, no matter how plaintiff frames his complaint, it fails to state a claim under the APA.
[…] the Court GRANTS defendant’s motion to dismiss and DISMISSES the action in its entirety.

In footnote 7, the Court talks about what must be “exceedingly frustrating”:

The Court appreciates that the State Department’s conduct in recognizing Ali as a U.S. national for almost thirty years, only to reverse that determination with minimal explanation, must be exceedingly frustrating. But plaintiffs recourse nonetheless lies under Section 360(a) of the INA, not the APA. See Hassan, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 443 (noting that although multiple inconsistent decisions from the government over a span of many years created an understandable frustration, no action was cognizable under the APA with respect to the revocation of plaintiff’s passport).

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U.S. Senate Confirms Matthew Tueller as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

 

 

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