LESBIAN RUMOR COSTS HOMELAND SECURITY $100,000.
When rumors started to spread about a lesbian relationship among three women and favoritism by the manager among them, one of those women complained to agency managers asking them to make the rumors stop. She soon filed an EEO charge complaining about a hostile work environment, gender and national origin discrimination. Although the agency told employees in writing to cease and desist, it soon opened an investigation of the three women, asking if they had a sexual relationship and whether they were gay. Not long after the interrogation, Homeland Security (TSA) reassigned one of them from the night shift where she worked with the others to the day shift. As if that was not enough of a blunder, it alerted the day shift managers that the reassigned employee might be hostile. That led to the EEO charge being amended to include a charge of retaliation. Here is how that led to a $100,000 payout.
Rather than settle a case with obvious problems at an early stage, Homeland Security continued its long-established pattern of ignoring the risks of litigation. (See “CBP/DHS, Like a Fish, Rotting From the Head First,” Jan 1, 2013 ) The employee testified that the agency’s violations of her rights had led to her losing sleep, becoming depressed, experiencing chest pains, losing self-confidence, and stress eating. Two co-workers affirmed much of that testimony. The employee’s doctor confirmed that he had had to prescribe medicine for high blood pressure and anxiety. The EEOC reiterated it does not even require testimony from a health care provider or expert to substantiate claims for compensatory damages. It then upheld the judge’s recommendation that the employee be given $100,000 in light of the duration, nature and severity of the emotional harm.
When representing employees in similar situations, whether before EEOC or in the grievance process, union reps should always ask for compensatory damages. While some agencies might fix the problem quickly and for good, others, like DHS, might let it drag on for years. Consequently, the union rep should advise the employee to keep track of changes in sleeping and eating habits, signs of depression and anxiety, medical treatment they need, increases in sick leave absences, etc. Don’t be afraid to advise the employee to see a private therapist for help.
As we have said often, we at FEDSMILL are not giving out legal advice. If you find you need some, contact the union attorney. Check out Complainant v. Janet Napolitano, EEOC Appeal No. 0720130010 (10/31/13)