Fedweek Legal

In Coopwood v. Department of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120083127 (May 2, 2012), the EEOC modified an agency award of compensatory damages and awarded the complainant $150,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages, $18,677 in pecuniary damages, and $14,378 in attorney fees.

The complainant worked as a certified professional controller trainer for 2 1/2 years in Knoxville, Tenn. with the Federal Aviation Administration until she transferred to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. During the time the complainant was employed in Knoxville, she was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her race. In Coopwood v. Department of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120054544 (July 10, 2007), the Commission found that the complainant’s coworkers and trainers had hindered her training in various ways, including during one training session, a person wrote "KKK" on the aircraft data tag at the complainant’s work station and on other occasions, people placed nooses in the complainant’s work station. In its prior decision, the Commission ordered the agency to reinstate the complainant to the position she occupied prior to her training being terminated and to determine the appropriate amount of back pay and compensatory damages to be paid to the complainant.

In support of her request for $300,000 in compensatory damages, the complainant submitted to the agency her own affidavit as well as affidavits from friends, family members, and others. Despite this wealth of evidence, the agency determined that the complainant had suffered only mild emotional distress and awarded her $35,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages. The agency denied the complainant any back pay.

On appeal, the Commission ordered the agency to conduct a supplemental investigation to determine how much the complainant’s compensation and benefits would have increased if she had completed her certification training in Knoxville before transferring to Andrews Air Force Base. The Commission also found that the hostile work environment harassment caused the complainant to suffer severe emotional pain and mental anguish in that she (1) developed severe depression, (2) experienced vomiting in the office, (3) cried uncontrollably, (4) had difficulty concentrating because she felt like crying all the time, (4) experienced frequent panic attacks, (5) feared for her safety after learning about the two nooses, and (6) had nightmares and insomnia. The Commission found that the discriminatory conduct caused the complainant to experience dramatic changes in her weight, and exacerbated various stomach-related ailments over the course of several years, in addition to the severe depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Given the duration and severity of the emotional, physical, and professional harm the complainant suffered, the Commission found it appropriate to award the complainant $150,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages.

In increasing the award of nonpecuniary compensatory damages for the complainant, the Commission stated that its award was consistent with the amounts awarded in similar cases and not "monstrously excessive" or the product of passion or prejudice. In support of its award the Commission cited Brown-Fleming v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120082667 (Oct. 28, 2010) (awarding $150,000 in non-pecuniary damages for a the complainant who suffered from depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, disassociation, crying spells, social isolation, damage to her professional reputation, withdrawal from relationships, short-term memory loss, nightmares, panic, worsening abdominal pain, worsening hypertension, dramatic weight-loss, and worsening psoriasis brought on by stress) and Yasko v. Dep’t of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A32340 (Apr. 21, 2004) (awarding the complainant $100,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages after being subjected to sexual harassment resulting in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, severe intermittent insomnia, weight gain and stress).

* This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., a law firm dedicated to the representation of federal employees worldwide. For more information on Passman & Kaplan, P.C., go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com.

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