Fedweek Legal

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to reinstate two scientists, finding that the agency illegally retaliated and discriminated against them when it terminated the two in 1994.

In 1994, the FDA chose not to convert Dr. Akira Komoriya from his Senior Staff Fellowship to a permanent position, leaving him without a job. Komoriya filed a discrimination complaint against FDA. Komoriya, a Japanese-American, claimed that he was discriminated against because of his Asian background and his accent. Dr. Beverly Packard, another Fellow at FDA, openly supported Komoriya’s charges of discrimination. A short while later, Packard’s fellowship also was terminated. The commission’s initial decision focused on the facts “lurking in the background” – that the manager was impatient and rude with Asians, snickered or laughed at them, complained about not understanding their English, and would not say hello or good morning to them. As a result, EEOC found that the manager “had a bias which manifested itself through her hostility to Asian scientists and personnel who spoke with any noticeable Asian accent.” This week, the EEOC affirmed that decision, dismissing FDA’s appeals.

Two of FDA’s senior officials had criticized Komoriya’s scientific and regulatory work, including his warnings about the potential dangers of mad cow disease in the United States. The EEOC found, however, that their contentions were false, were designed to hide discrimination and were not supported by any written record, and ordered them to take training to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. Similarly, the commission found that FDA had retaliated against Packard because she supported Komoriya’s discrimination allegations and discredited FDA’s charges that she was difficult to work with. It also said that FDA didn’t have the documents to support its contentions and questioned the timing of Packard’s removal – just 12 days after Komoriya’s termination.

Kristin Alden of Passman & Kaplan, PC, in Washington, D.C., who represented Komoriya and Packard, said “It’s a real victory for two accomplished scientists who never should have been fired. Their reputations were severely damaged, and now they can start to recover from this horrible ordeal.” She added that EEOC “has recognized and addressed the continuing problem of insidious discrimination and retaliation that still exists, even in the federal government.” Both scientists now are entitled to back pay and benefits, and the remainder of the case is being remanded for a decision on compensatory damages for pain and suffering in an amount yet to be determined by an EEOC administrative judge.

Packard and Komoriya v. Dept. of Health and Human Services (Food and Drug Administration), EEOC Appeal Nos. 01985494 and 01985495; Request Nos. 05A 10499 and 10506 (November 27, 2001).

The published decision can be found at EEOC’s web page, http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/decisions.html, use “Komoriya” for the search term.