Bilingualism is a highly valued skill in our diverse society, but some managers over at the Social Security Administration have found a new use for it, namely as a weapon to retaliate against an employee.  This is not the usual story of a bilingual employee being the one discriminated against, but of someone being punished for lacking the skill.

It all started with some manager wanting to torment an employee.  According to the EEOC decision, the manager would not let the employee train newcomers, yelled at her in public, and forced her to use the agency’s back door rather than front doors as others were allowed to do.  EEOC had little trouble calling that a hostile work environment motivated by a desire to retaliate against the employee for earlier EEO activity.  (See Genette Banks v. Michael J. Astrue, SSA. EEOC No. 0720100014 (April, 2012)

But when EEOC looked further, it also found that the agency has inserted a bilingual requirement into a position description just in time to prevent the employee from competing for a promotion into the job.  When it looked behind that decision, EEOC found that SSA had not conducted any objective analysis supporting the need for bilingualism in that position, that the employee’s office averages only three Spanish-speaking interviews a month which the six employees who are already bilingual could easily handle, and that the selected employee had never been asked to use her bilingual skills.

The Commission ordered SSA to pay the employee $65,000 in damages for the pain, suffering and mental anguish she had to endure.  It also ordered SSA to give her priority consideration for the next vacancy. Finally, it required SSA to take “corrective action” against the involved managers.

Aside from disciplining the involved managers for a blatant prohibited personnel practice, it would be nice if OPM stepped up and required agencies to conduct an objective analysis any time they add a requirement to a position, whether it is added via a position description change or the use of a selective placement factor to put qualification requirements for promotion out of reach of certain candidates.

However, we are not holding our breath waiting for OPM to do a thing—and particularly not in connection with the abuse of bilingual skills.  Its leaders had the chance to correct a long-time abuse of bilingual employees, but deliberately chose to continue the exploitation.  We are talking about the OPM decision to ignore the bilingual skill when assigning points for all other skills as part of the process for determining the salary grade of a job.   See our post entitled “John (OPM)Berry’s Contempt for Bilingual Employees for more details.

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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