By Deborah Hopkins, October 18, 2017

EEO activity isn’t fun for anyone involved – not for the complainant, not for the agency reps, and not for the supervisor named as a responding management official. But EEO laws exist to protect people from illegal reprisal for engaging in protected EEO activity, and a recent reprisal case from USGS shows us exactly what not to do.

The employee, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, filed an EEO complaint based on age (51), sex (male), hostile work environment, and reprisal. The employee’s claims were:

  1. On September 12, 2013, he was notified by the selecting official that he was not selected for the GS-13 Supervisory Hydrologist position;
  2. On September 11, 2013, the selecting official did not try to discern between the best qualified candidates, misrepresented the position and asked him if he preferred a GS-13 non-supervisory or a GS-13 supervisory position;
  3. On September 10, 2013, his first level supervisor instructed him to pull his application prior to being interviewed for the Supervisor Hydrologist position in Rolla, Missouri;
  4. On August 20, 2013, the selecting official told him that the supervisory position was the Selectee’s position;
  5. On August 20, 2013, his first level supervisor instructed him not to apply for the Supervisory Hydrologist position in Rolla, Missouri;
  6. On an unspecified date in October 2010, he did not receive his promotion after being told that he had the director’s approval for the promotion, pending a letter of reference;
  7. On an unspecified date in October 2007 and October 2008, he was not allowed to rewrite his performance standards as another technical specialist was allowed to do;
  8. On October 24, 2013, after he contacted the EEO Counselor, his first level supervisor made remarks to him about his EEO activity; and
  9. On May 9, 2014, Complainant received a Letter of Warning (LOW) from his immediate supervisor subjecting him to a hostile work environment.

As is common in EEO cases filed, the complainant’s claims on age, race and harassment were found to have no merit, but the EEOC did find evidence of reprisal for prior EEO activity:

  • The supervisor offered the employee an incentive to withdraw his complaint, and told him that if management changed and the employee had a good performance evaluation, he would talk with senior management about a new job for the complainant.
  • The supervisor told the complainant he thought he had “pulled the trigger too soon” by contacting the EEO counselor.
  • The supervisor also told the complainant that the EEO process is not “the most enjoyable path for anyone involved.”

The EEOC found that the supervisor “engaged in conduct that was designed to intimidate and/or interfere with Complainant’s EEO activity. We further find that [the Supervisor’s] comments would be reasonably likely to deter an employee from exercising their rights under the EEO statutes, and that the actions and comments by [the Supervisor] were clearly in violation of the anti-retaliation provisions of our regulations.”

As part of the order, EEOC required the USGS to provide “at least eight hours of in-person EEO training to [the Supervisor] regarding his responsibilities under Title VII, with special emphasis on the duty of managers to avoid retaliating against employees.” Octavio C. v. USGS, EEOC Appeal No. 0120150460 (August 16, 2017).

We try to get the word out to your supervisors that while EEO is not fun for anyone involved, making these types of statements is going to be reprisal, every single time. If you need to know more on this topic, Bill and I are holding a webinar called 50 Shades of Reprisal: The Differences between Whistleblower, EEO, Union & Veteran Reprisal on October 26.  [email protected]

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