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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 Finding of Discrimination Upheld

Finding of Discrimination Upheld

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Debra Meachum and Teresa Abbott v. Social Security Administration, EEOC Appeal No. 0720120003 (September 9, 2013), the EEOC found that the findings of an administrative judge, that the complainants had been subjected to discrimination and harassment on the bases of their sex and age, were supported by substantial evidence. Meachum and Abbott, GS-14 attorneys, alleged that their supervisor subjected them to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment. The EEOC AJ found that the supervisor treated the male employees and younger female employees more favorably with respect to work assignments, the ability to express their opinions regarding their work assignments, due dates imposed on them for completing assignments, and the manner in which the supervisor treated them. The AJ found that the supervisor made derogatory remarks and demeaned the complainants, denied requests by the complainants for reassignment of their cases when they were overloaded, and more harshly criticized the work completed by the complainants. The AJ noted that the workload of male attorneys was considerably lighter than that of the older females, the work performed by the male employees was not harshly criticized by the supervisor, and males were allowed to disagree with the supervisor in meetings while the complainants were not. The EEOC rejected the agency’s arguments on appeal that the AJ’s credibility determinations were erroneous and that the AJ substituted her judgment for the supervisor’s judgment.

The EEOC determined that while the AJ relied, in part, on information from written affidavits in the report of investigation, the AJ also relied on live testimony at the hearing when making credibility determinations. The EEOC found that the AJ was within her authority when she found the complainants’ versions of an event more credible over the conflicting testimony of the supervisor. The EEOC found no basis to disturb the AJ’s determination that complainants had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that they were each subjected to discriminatory harassment on the basis of sex and age. With respect to compensatory damages, the EEOC reduced the AJ’s award to Meachum from $200,000 to $175,000 to account for factors not related to the discriminatory harassment. The EEOC upheld the award of $175,000 to Abbott. The EEOC noted that the award of compensatory damages was based on the testimony of the complainants as well as on the testimony of colleagues who had firsthand knowledge of and experience with the supervisor. The AJ also based her award of compensatory damages on the duration of the harm, noting that Meachum still experiences anxiety attacks. Additionally, Meachum’s testimony was corroborated by her husband who testified that their marriage was changed by the harassment and that they no longer enjoyed the things they used to do together.

The EEOC rejected the agency’s argument that the AJ failed to consider that compensatory damages are not available in age discrimination cases. The EEOC found that either claim, age discrimination or sex discrimination, could stand independently and, therefore, found no justification for the agency’s argument that the amount of damages should be reduced because the complainants prevailed under the age discrimination claim as well as under their sex discrimination claim. Finally, the EEOC found that the AJ’s award of attorney fees and costs ($124,336.50 in attorney fees and $2705.14 in costs) was sufficiently supported by the documentation provided by the complainants. In its remand to the agency, the EEOC ordered the agency to consider disciplinary action against the supervisor ‘for the discriminatory actions perpetuated against Complainants.