The EEOC recently awarded both compensatory and pecuniary damages based on a hostile work environment on the basis of sex (female) where the complainant was falsely accused of being sexually involved with a manager and was referred to by an offensive nickname. Hensley v. TVA, EEOC Appeal No. 0120072458 (11/10/08). In reversing the final agency decision with respect to damages, the Commission increased the compensatory damages for pain and suffering from $7,500 to $25,000, notwithstanding that the agency terminated complainant’s first-level manager and suspended her immediate supervisor.
The EEOC reviewed a number of claims for pecuniary damages including reimbursement for sick leave, medical expenses, security expenses, weight loss expenses, and dental expenses. Although pecuniary damages are available for out-of-pocket expenses attributable to discriminatory conduct and include both past and future pecuniary losses that are likely to occur after resolution of a complaint, the EEOC found that a "good portion of complainant’s emotional distress is also clearly related to alleged harassment and intimidation by coworkers that is not part of the discrimination finding." Thus the Commission reduced the proven pecuniary damages by 50 percent.
In addition to awarding medical expenses, the EEOC awarded reimbursement of mileage incurred for each medical visit. Dental expenses for grinding were denied for a lack of connection to work-related stress while the same result was reached with weight loss expenses. The EEOC found that there was insufficient evidence to support any connection between complainant’s weight gain and the agency’s discriminatory actions. The complainant was also denied reimbursement of expenses for purchasing a handgun, a handgun course, and a security system. The EEOC determined that "such expenses were solely related to allegations of harassment and intimidation that are not part of the discriminatory finding herein."
This case points out the importance of providing proof of a causal connection when requesting pecuniary damages as relief in a discrimination case. In addition, complainants must keep good records of all out-of-pocket expenses incurred as EEO cases may drag on for a number of years.
* 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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