By Meghan Droste, July 17, 2019
When I’m not litigating my own cases, I spend most of my work-related time out there teaching, bringing you case law and pointers to help in your own practice. Last month, I had the pleasure of being the student instead of the teacher, and I picked up a bunch of new and exciting info at a conference for employment lawyers. One of the panels I attended brought my attention to an EEOC decision from last year, Joseph B. v. Department of Veterans Affairs, EEOC App. No. 0120180746 (August 14, 2018), that is remarkable for the award of several years of front pay. Front pay is unusual and years of front pay is nearly unheard of. But that’s not the only takeaway from this decision, so this month’s tip comes from the procedural issues that led to the case being in front of OFO.
In Joseph B., the complainant filed a motion for summary judgment and the agency stipulated to liability in nearly all areas of the complaint. After reviewing the pleadings, the administrative judge granted the complainant’s motion and entered summary judgment in his favor. The administrative judge subsequently conducted a hearing on damages and issued a decision ordering several types of relief. As part of the order, the administrative judge ordered that the complainant “continue to receive full benefits in front pay status, including health insurance.” The agency fully implemented the administrative judge’s decision with some modifications to the language. It included in the final order a direction that, to receive the front pay, the complainant had to resign from his position. The agency did not file an appeal of the administrative judge’s decision.
The agency paid the complainant his salary and related benefits for more than a year after the final order, although the complainant did not resign. Fifteen months after the order, the agency separated the complainant from federal service and stopped paying the ordered relief. Instead, the agency asserted that it would pay the complainant a lump sum of the front pay owed, with an offset for the salary he was earning from his part-time employment (which the complainant had engaged in while working for the agency with the agency’s knowledge and approval). The complainant filed a petition for enforcement with the Commission.
All of this brings us to the tip for this month: If an agency is going to take issue with an administrative judge’s award, it must file an appeal. The agency did not do so, and instead issued a final order stating that it would fully implement the administrative judge’s decision. As a result, the Commission found that it could not modify the order and pay the complainant a lump sum — which would not allow the complainant to continue to receive the “full benefits,” including health insurance, provided for in the order — rather than keep him on the rolls in a non-duty status. The Commission also rejected the agency’s arguments regarding the complainant’s other income, and held that front pay is not subject to mitigation.
I recommend thinking of these final orders like a settlement agreement. While you might come to regret it later, once you agree to it (or fully implement it without appealing), you’re stuck with it. [email protected]