$120,000 LIGHT BULB
If managers ever needed an example of why it is always easier to work out a quick, voluntary agreement to a problem-even when they have doubts about the validity of an employee’s problem, this is the case. A VA employee presented managers with notes from her medical officials that she needed natural or at least non-florescent light in her office to treat, if not prevent, chronic migraines. One solution would be to buy the employee a couple of cheap desk lamps from any of a half-dozen GSA’s discount suppliers. But, no, that apparently was too easy for the VA. Instead, this agency devoted to caring for the health of others, decided to stand up for its “rights” rather than reason.
First, the VA disagreed that the employee’s migraines were interfering with a major life activity. EEOC found they were impacting her ability to sleep, eat and care for herself. (This case began before the ADA/Rehabilitation Act amendments which make it very hard for employer’s to oppose reasonable accommodation requests on these grounds.) Second, when the VA decided to accommodate the employee, it took months and years to get it done. Consequently, EEOC ordered it to pay the employee $60,000 in non-pecuniary damages, $3,545 in pecuniary damages, $57,784 in attorney’s fees, and $755 in costs.
It is a total mystery to us why cases like this do not settle earlier. Perhaps we need to insist government-wide that when EEO/LR/ER managers encounter disputes that they not only do a risk analysis of failing to settle, but also have the agency principal making for endorsing the resistance strategy sign off on the decision to take on the risk. Someone should be held accountable for this kind of stupidity. (Check out Yessenia H. v. Department of Veterans Affairs, EEOC No. 0720070027 (2015)