By Meghan Droste, September 18, 2019
Humor is generally a matter of personal taste. Knock, knock jokes, for example, are very popular with my nieces, but those of us no longer in the elementary school set generally find them less amusing. While my humor tends toward the more sarcastic, plenty of my friends prefer puns or other types of jokes. Regardless of what tickles our funny bone, I hope we can all agree that harassment is never funny.
Unfortunately for the complainant in Bryant F. v. Department of Homeland Security, his supervisors found his disability rather amusing and repeatedly joked about it. See EEOC App. No. 0120171192 (July 2, 2019). The complainant, a special agent, broke his wrist on the job. He had to undergo several surgeries to address the injury. Ultimately, he lost all movement in his wrist and hand. While he was recovering from the injury and the surgeries, his first-, second-, and third-line supervisors repeatedly joked about his injury, asking him about his bowling record and calling him “the bowling team captain” because his cast looked like a bowling brace. When he pushed back against these jokes, which his supervisors subjected him to on a daily basis, his first-line supervisor told him it was “just for fun.”
In addition to “joking” about the complainant’s disability, his first-line supervisor repeatedly attempted to assign him work that went beyond his restrictions. He provided medical documentation to the agency describing his need to remain in the office and not perform field work because of his injury and ultimate loss of mobility. Despite this, his supervisor repeatedly listed him on the roster for field work, causing the complainant to find other agents to cover those duties. The complainant’s second-line supervisor also made comments about the complainant being on light duty, asking if he was “still trying to get out of his duty.”
The complainant initially requested a hearing but withdrew the request before the administrative judge issued a decision and the Commission remanded the case back to the agency for a Final Agency Decision. The agency determined in its FAD that the complainant failed to prove any of his claims of discrimination or harassment.
Unsurprisingly, the Commission reversed. It concluded that the complainant’s supervisors repeatedly harassed him when they “joked” about his cast and made comments about him being on light duty. It also held that the agency failed to accommodate the complainant when his supervisor repeatedly tried to assign duties that went beyond his physical restrictions and when it failed to look for a reassignment when it became clear that he would not recover mobility in his wrist and hand.
Considering the facts, it was no surprise that the Commission found in the complainant’s favor and also ordered training for several of the people involved. Harassment and disabilities are not good topics for jokes, and I hope the supervisors in the Bryant F. case adjusted their senses of humor after their training. Droste@FELTG.com