FEDweek

Confrontation Over EEO Contact Violated Rights

The Department of Defense committed a per se violation of Title VII when supervisors confronted an information technology specialist about her EEO activity and reprimanded her in front of coworkers for filing a complaint. Complainant v. Department of Defense, Defense Information Systems Agency, 0120140624 (EEOC OFO 05/21/15).

According to the decision: A supervisor expressed to the specialist that she should have contacted the supervisors before going to the EEO counselor. One supervisor admitted to another supervisor that she may have made a mistake in talking to the specialist about her EEO contact. The other supervisor expressed his disappointment with the specialist’s EEO counselor contact. The EEOC found that the supervisors’ comments were reasonably likely to deter the specialist from engaging in the EEO process.

The EEOC however found that the specialist did not establish that the alleged incidents were sufficiently severe or pervasive to establish a hostile work environment. No testimony corroborated her allegation that management made comments about her disability. Furthermore, although the complainant claimed that a supervisor delayed the processing of her workers’ compensation claim, the functional supervisor said that after he informed her supervisors about the delay, the necessary forms were completed the next day.

While the specialist alleged that she was required to work menial assignments, a supervisor explained that most of the work available in the division involved administrative tasks. The EEOC noted that the specialist alleged that she was not assigned duties commensurate with her grade, series, or ability before her EEO contact. Also, while a supervisory telecommunications specialist may have raised his voice at the specialist and suggested that she leave a project, she returned days later. The EEOC said that although the specialist’s work environment may not have been ideal, the agency’s actions were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to unreasonably interfere with her work performance.

The lesson to be learned from this case is that a supervisor’s actions are per se reprisal when the supervisor confronts an employee about an EEO counselor contact and states that the employee should have reported the problem to her chain of command rather than the EEO office.

* This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C.