“SHHH!” COMMAND COSTS MANAGEMENT OVER $12,000
A manager warned a maintenance employee to be careful who she told about how offended she was by finding a pornographic magazine in the restroom. The supervisor may have just been trying to get the employee to be discrete or to let him deal with the problem before she went outside her chain of command, but the employee and EEOC saw the manager’s words as a violation of law and ordered it to write a substantial check.
The EEOC described the manager’s statement as a warning that the employee should “. . . watch when and where she said things in that some things needed to be talked about in private and not out in the open where all can hear.” He said this after the employee reported finding the alleged pornography to the agency police. The EEOC held the manager’s statement had a chilling effect on the employee’s freedom to file a sexual harassment complaint.
The employee asked for thousands of dollars in damages for the emotional harm she had suffered from the incident, but the only evidence she put on the record of that harm was her own testimony. She said under oath that the manager’s words impacted her health by increasing her stress level and causing migraine headaches to the point where” she did not wish to continue employment at the Agency. Additionally, the employee stated she experienced “hair loss, insomnia, and an extreme paranoia of her workplace.” The employee did not have a medical or psychological professional testify about the emotional harm
In the end, the EEOC gave the employee only $500 in damages for the emotional harm, but it also ordered the agency to pay over $12,000 for the employee’s attorney fees and costs of filing the complaint. No matter who got the money, the agency had to write a five-figure check to compensate for the supervisor’s error.
The lesson of this case, which is Donna Carter v. Shinseki, VA, Appeal No. 0120122266 (10/16/12), is that managers generally violate the law if they make virtually any suggestion to an employee with an EEO gripe that he/she should keep it quiet, not tell outsiders, be discrete, or even keep it just between “you and me.” Unlike FLRA, which is a toothless tiger when it comes to punishing managers for interfering with employee rights to ask their union for help, EEOC has the power to bite down hard so that management does not soon forget the pain. As FEDSMILL.com has pointed out before, EEOC has the power to also order the offending manager disciplined and fined.