Hostile Work Environment Harassment Based on Gender
In Sherri L. Jackson v. Dept. of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 0720110036 (March 15, 2012), the EEOC affirmed the decision of an administrative judge who found that plaintiff Jackson had established a claim of hostile work environment harassment on the basis of her sex. The AJ found that while her accused supervisor behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally towards both men and women, he treated women worse.
The AJ noted that the supervisor’s conduct towards women included: 1) speaking to them in curt and rude tones; 2) making derogatory comments about women; 3) screaming and yelling at them; 4) repeatedly criticizing them in public and in private; 5) micromanaging them more than men when their performance did not merit increased supervision; 6) circumventing the chain of command and undermining Jackson’s supervisory authority over her subordinates; and 7) displaying physically intimidating behavior such as aggressive body language, slamming doors and slamming his fists on the desk.
On appeal, the agency argued that the AJ had erred in crediting the testimony of Jackson and her witnesses over the agency’s witnesses. In its decision, the EEOC declined to reweigh the parties’ credibility on appeal and noted that the agency had not pointed to any objective documentary evidence contradicting the testimony of Jackson and her witnesses. The EEOC affirmed the AJ’s award of $125,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages and more than $103,000 in attorney fees. The EEOC noted that Jackson had experienced a stress breakdown which necessitated her eventual separation from the agency and that she still suffers the effects of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The EEOC found that substantial evidence in the record supported the AJ’s award of $125,000, which was not “monstrously excessive” and “nor the product of passion or prejudice.” The EEOC also held that the AJ’s reduction in requested attorney fees was appropriate based on the fact that the fee petitions contained many excessive, redundant, unnecessary or inadequately documented expenditures. In its order, the EEOC ordered the agency to consider appropriate disciplinary action against the responsible management officials and specifically noted that training is not considered disciplinary action.