EEOC Increases Damages Award
In Hugh Victor Conrad v. Eric Holder, J., Attorney General, Department of Justice, Appeal No. 0120090690 (April 9, 2010), the EEOC Office of Federal Operations increased the agency’s award of $40,000 in compensatory damages to $100,000. The complainant, a former assistant U.S. attorney had been demoted from his supervisory position in February 1999, three weeks after he wrote a letter to management exposing alleged racial harassment in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama office in Huntsville, Ala. Conrad also endured six other events of reprisal over the span of 19 months, and the repercussions continued into 2002. Conrad filed several EEO complaints which the agency consolidated.
The Commission ruled in Mr. Conrad’s favor in December of 2006. The Commission ordered remedial action including reinstatement, expunction of the personnel record, back pay, training to management officials, consideration of disciplinary action, posting of a notice, and reasonable attorneys fees. The Commission also ordered a supplemental investigation regarding compensatory damages. The Commission issued its order denying both parties’ requests for reconsideration nine months later, in September 2007.
The agency commenced its supplemental investigation regarding damages. Based on the investigation, the agency awarded Conrad $40,000 in damages. Conrad appealed, seeking $300,000. The agency did not dispute that Conrad had suffered a’ major depression for which he was hospitalized, anxiety, diminished enjoyment, withdrawal from social, family and professional contacts, loss of concentration, loss of memory and weight fluctuation, and a damaged professional reputation.” However, the agency defended the damage amount of $40,000 as appropriate, claiming that a large portion of the complainant’s claims related to pre-existing medical issues, or were related to ‘other causes, such as the stress of the processing of his claims.”
After a review of the record, the Commission increased the award to $100,000, finding that this was a reasonable and appropriate award, and that it was consistent with amounts awarded in similar cases. The Commission did, however, deny Conrad’s request for pecuniary damages based on lack of documentary proof, and also denied Conrad’s request for reimbursement of loss of future earning capacity. The Commission’s based its decision to increase the award to $100,000 on the extensive record the agency developed in its supplemental investigation.
This case provides a good template for the kind of proof that will convince the OFO to award significant damages. The record included testimony from Conrad, his family members (father, ex-wife, wife, brother, and son), health care providers (hospital and doctor), and a co-worker, as follows:
Conrad attested that before the demotion he was ‘happy, productive and generally in good health; was well-regarded and did speaking engagements for the agency.” Mr. Conrad further testified that, after the demotion, and after the agency reneged on a promise that he would not be required to report to his replacement, he began to have trouble sleeping, developed eating disorders, mood swings, anxiety and depression, loss of his marriage and loss of his employment status.
Conrad’s doctor testified that after the demotion Conrad was more anxious and upset, that his demeanor changed, that he endured psychological trauma, that he felt physically threatened and feared assault, was depressed, became anti-social, lost status at work, could not sleep, and had weight fluctuations. There was also documentation that Conrad was hospitalized in 2000 for a major depressive episode.