Fedweek Legal

In Juergensen v. Department of Commerce, EEOC Appeal No. 0120073331 (October 5, 2007), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the agency dismissed a discrimination complaint in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Consequently, the commission reversed the agency’s dismissal and remanded the complaint for further processing within the agency.

The complainant was an African-American employee of the Charlotte Regional Office of the U.S. Census Bureau, a sub-organizational unit within the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to the complainant, the agency rehired a former employee who had been the subject of a discrimination complaint for making a rope noose and hanging it up in the Charlotte office in close proximity to an African-American employee. In her complaint, the complainant alleged that the agency had subjected her to a hostile work environment on the basis of her race when it knowingly hired a former employee who had previously engaged in racial harassment in the same Charlotte office.

In the federal sector, the EEO process typically is initiated within the employing agency of the complainant. According to EEOC regulations, found at 29 CFR Part 1614, an agency is charged with the responsibility of investigating allegations of discrimination by a complaining employee. In certain circumstances, the agency is permitted to dismiss a complaint prior to the completion of its mandatory investigation if the agency determines that the complaint fails to state a claim. A claim of hostile work environment or harassment may fail to state a claim if there is no evidence that the hostile work environment or harassment meets the legal standard of being “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to alter the conditions of a complainant’s employment. Generally, a single incident or group of isolated incidents will not satisfy the legal standard for constituting a hostile work environment or harassment.

In the instant case, the complainant alleged that agency management officials had, by knowingly hiring and placing in her midst an employee who had previously performed a conspicuously racist act, subjected her to the possibility of a racially hostile work environment. The commission found that if the complainant’s allegations were proven to be true, then they would be sufficiently severe to state a claim of discrimination. The commission also cited the Supreme Court in emphasizing that an employer is responsible for preventing discriminatory hostile work environments when it is aware of such danger. Thus the case was reinstated and remanded to the agency for an investigation.

* 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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