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Avoid new legal risk: Train supervisors to stamp out hostile work environment retaliation

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Florida employers, has approved new grounds for discrimination lawsuits. It recently ruled that employees who file discrimination complaints can sue for retaliation if their employers punish them with a hostile work environment.

The 11th Circuit was the final federal circuit to approve this cause of action.

Essentially, the ruling makes it illegal to engage in a campaign to get an employee to quit because she filed a discrimination complaint.

Recent case: When Diane and several other doctors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs filed internal EEO complaints, they soon found themselves on the receiving end of what they perceived as character assassination, interference with their research activities and other hostile acts.

They sued and won in a jury trial. The VA appealed, arguing that the 11th Circuit never recognized a retaliatory hostile work environment.

But the 11th Circuit said that it finally did, joining the other federal circuits. It upheld the jury decision in this case. (Gowski, et al., v. Shinseki, No. 09-16371, 11th Cir., 2012)

What employers must do: Be sure to cover the concept of retaliatory hostile work environment in your supervisor training. Explain that making life miserable for an employee—even if not accompanied by a concrete action like termination or demotion—may be retaliation. After a discrimination complaint has been resolved, remind supervisors that you won’t tolerate any form of retaliation.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Madero February 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm

03 FEB 2014 – I finally was able to get ahold of the file, the “Fit for Duty FIle” that my department, Dr. Theodore Strickland and Sheri Meilus had submitted against me….09 OCT 2013, 6 months “AFTER” the incident happened. 6 months. I had “NO IDEA” “HOW”…they were allowed to do what they did to me. I had “NO IDEA” “WHAT” they said…to have me Physically and Mentally evaluated. Dr. Theodore Strickland, Chief of Pathology, Bay PInes V.A. hospital wrote…about me: “Linda Madero is an Imminent and Significant Security Threat to the VA, the veterans, and her coworkers”. An Imminent and Significant Security Threat…. ???? Incredible. I had no idea…he had written that. “HOW?”…and my first line supervisor…Sheri Meilus, Anatomical Pathology Supervisor, Bay Pines VA Hospital….she had fabricated 12 Reports of Contact on me. When I reviewed them, they were so blatantly false, made up, that she had documented in one…..something that hadn’t even happened…until a month later. 10 of them were from the week of the Union meeting in my department. No reprimand’s, no Admonishments, no Personal Improvement Plans, no nothing. And Dr. Strickland wrote “Imminent and Significant Threat”. ??? And Dr. Therry Wright signed that Fit for Duty Request, allowing them to have me evaluated. Dr. Dominique Therrier signed the packet. Paula Buchele and Cecil Johnson both signed….even though I had repeatedly emailed them asking them “Is this legal? I went to EO three times, the Union 2 times, and the Union came to my department for a meeting” “Is t his legal? How is this legal?”. The 180 days for EO/ORM to finalize the “Investigation” portion of my Formal EO complaint was 15 DEC 2013. EO/ORM requested an extension for 90 days. Now the date is 15 FEB 2014, 10 days from now. I have given a formal, recorded, deposition that lasted almost 4 hours. I had to “FIND” a phone, a room, and a department to give this deposition. One was not provided for me to give this very sensitive, legal, personal, deposition. One of my acting chiefs in my temporary deparment of Prosthetics, walked me around our area, going from one office to another, checking conference rooms, to find me an office, a phone, privacy, to give my statement. The Veterans Affairs office down the hall of bldg. 23 allowed me to use an office of theirs. I was lost for words. The Union did not provide me an office, EO did not, Human Resources did not. My temporary department could not…they are limited on space, offices, and no privacy for that length of a phone deposition. That was in December. 10 more days to go until the extension is up for the “Investigative” portion to be final. I am waiting to see what comes of the investigation. At this point I have personally asked the Director, Ms. Suzanne Klinker, to meet with me, she declined, she emailed me back stating “I don’t think that would be appropriate at this time due to your Formal EO complaint”. I have repeatedly asked to sit with Dr. Wright, Dr. Therrier, Paula Buchele, and Cecil Johson, over and over. I have asked the Union to set up this meeting, EO to set up this meeting, EO/ORM to set up this meeting. I have been told that they will meet with me, a meeting was set up, but then cancelled and I was told they would “RESCHEDULE”. Today is 03 FEB 2014, I have not sat with anyone. I was told in September that I had two choices, to quit or to return to the lab. ONce I spoke with Debbie Bailey, explained in full detail what had happened, I have not heard any further about me returning to the lab. I have been told, to rearrange my USA job resume. I have been told to start thinking of “OTHER” positions I may be suitable for, just “in case”, it was deemed “not a good fit” for me to return to the laboratory. I have been told that there is “NO WAY” that Dr. Strickland will be fired. No way that Sheri Meilus will be fired. Even if the investigation does support RETALIATION, RACE, and Discrimination for perceived Disability. EO/ORM supported my Formal Complaint based on Retalitation, Race, and Disability calling it “SEVERE AND PERVASIVE”. Now I am waiting to see what happens when the investigation portion is finalized. 10 days. I will keep you all posted with the outcome. I am very grateful and thankful for the Department of Prosthetics, Ms. Sharon Furry, Department Chief, Gabriel Hurst, Asst. Chief, Judy Hoefer, Asst. Chief, Sandra Pardue, Kathleen Reilly, Wendell Conley, Jim, Bev, Scott, Natalie, Ed, Phil, Charlie, Jen, John, and …even Mike. They took me in and have supported me throughout this ordeal. “Thank You Bay PInes Prosthetics Department”. More to follow, I will keep you posted.

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Linda Madero February 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Udate: 03 FB 2014. I last signed on in MAY 2013. I stayed in the library here at Bay Pines for 11 weeks total. And “no”, no mediation has ever ocurred. That was a “ruse”. While I sat and waited for mediation with my Department Chief, that EO/ORM here in Saint Petersburg got me to “reluctantly” agree to, my Department Chief was pushing through a packet, up through his superiors, to have me evaluated, for a “Fit For Duty” examination. I was examined. Physically and Mentally. I do not believe I have ever felt as violated as I do now. I was made to take a 567 MMPI, Minnesota Multi Phasic Personality test. To test for Psychopathy. ??? …it is surreal at this point. I was “deemed” Fit for Duty after being tested. Surprise?..no…..it was done as a “smoke screen” to cover what Dr. Theodore Strickland, Chief of Pathology, did on the afternoon of 19 APR 2013, threatening to have me physically removed from “his” lab, threatened to have me “relieved from duty”, threatened to have me evaluated for “Fit For Duty”. I stayed in the library for 11 weeks, not being told anything, waiting for “mediation” that never happened. The “Fit for Duty” exam request was signed by Dr. Terry Wright, another was signed by Dr. Dominique Therrier. Other documents to have this evaluation pushed through were signed by Human Resources Chief Paula Buchele and Cecil Johnson. I was temporarily assigned to the Department of Prosthetics on July 2nd, 2013. September 2013, “after” I was officially deemed “Fit for Duty”, “after” all the tests, exams, evaluations, I was told that I had two choices, to either quit or to return to my department. I met with a Debbie Bailey, temporarily standing in as the EO officer for Bay Pines. She sat with me and my Union Rep and we talked for over 3 hours. I wanted to know “how” this all happened. I explained to her how many times I had repeated “Is this LEGAL?”………”Can they do this to me?”…”Is this LEGAL?”, emails to Paula Buchele, Cecil Johnson, The Union, EO/ORM….”IS THIS LEGAL, CAN THEY DO THIS TO ME?”…..and no one, no one would answer me. I was told “It’s their right”. It is their “right”. Bay Pines Administrations “right” to do what they did, and are doing to me. I explained that the Fit for Duty was a smoke screen thrown up to distract everyone from what Dr. Strickland did that afternoon. To distract from what had been going on for over a year since I started working here. The multiple times to EO here, the Times to the Union, the Union meeting in my department, all the times I had gone to my direct line supervisor Sheri Meilus, the emails to her and to Dr. Strickland about what was going on. The Fit for Duty was a smoke screen, to throw attention on me…and off of him….them. ANd it worked.

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LInda S. Madero June 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

03 JUN 2013

I am still sitting in the library at Bay Pines V.A. Hospital.

Newest event with my case.

A letter sent to me via UPS from my Department Chief.

Retaliation. In full blown affect here at Bay Pines V.A. hospital.

I am not sure who I can trust here. I need legal help and advice.

Linda S. Madero

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LInda S. Madero May 16, 2013 at 10:07 am

I concur. I am an ARMY veteran 15 years, I am a Veteran patient, AND…I am a V.A. employee at Bay Pines. I am currently involved in a “Retaliation” case concerning my “Hostile Disruptive” workplace environement. I have been dealing with the Hostile work environment for the 1 year and 2 months I have been here. I have taken ALL proper channels, chain of command, then EO twice, and it then went to the Union. 3 days after the Union reps came to meet with me and my management? My department chief came isolated me in a back room, closed the door and blatantly stated “I don’ t care WHO you go to with this or WHO you tell”…he attacked me personally, professionally, militarily. He then threatened to have me removed from my department, relieved from duty, and evaluated to see if I was even “fit for duty”. You could NEVER have told me that this would EVER happen. I am the “Poster Person” for professionalism, military bearing, discipline. I STILL responded to him by using “Sir”…..the ENTIRE time he was berating me and insulting me to my core. The incident happened on 19 APR 2013. A Friday late afternoon. There was no one to file my report to in the hospital that late on a Friday so AOD directed me to go to the onsite police office, they directed me to the police station. I made a “Voluntary Witness” statement and left the station at 8 PM that evening, exhausted. I went straight to the Union office that following Monday morning. The Union rep could not get anyone in my chain of command to pick up their phones or to answer their pagers for over 2 hours. When they finally did respond?….he was told that they had turned in paperwork to put “ME” on Administrative Duties, pulled off my work duties to file slides and do mundane work, and to also have me evaluated for “fit for duty”…….reason?………..they said it was due to “MY CONDUCT”. INSANITY….ABSURD!………the incident happened on 19 APR 2013. Today is 16 MAY 2013. ALmost a full month. I have been told to sit in the library for my duty day emailing my supervisor when I come in and when I leave. I have not been spoken to, directed, informed, notified…of nothing by Bay Pines Administration, the Director, Human Resources. No one. THe only people that I have spoken to in my Union Rep here at Bay Pines (he is not being told anything either, or this is what he tells me), and the department of EO/ORM main office here in Saint Petersburg. I tried to file a “FORMAL” complaint with the EO office here at Bay PInes, but they told me I could not file “FORMAL” here with them. THat I had to call the office in North Saint Pete to file with them. They “ALL” want me to “MEDIATE” with my Department Chief. To find a “WAY” to resolve the “ISSUE”. EO/ORM counselor has gotten me to agree to at the very least sit and mediate with my Department Chief, for if nothing else, to find out “WHY” he did what he did. I “DO NOT CARE” “WHY”. He verbally attacked me, he insulted me to my CORE, he threatened me with my JOB…he said he did not even think I was capable of performing my job and that there was something wrong…with “ME”….so that he was going to have me evaluated to see if I was even “fit” to work in “HIS” department!………NO!……….THERE IS NOTHING TO MEDIATE…………………ABOUT. HE WAS WRONG!………HE IS WRONG!……..He then added INSULT TO INJURY by turning around………..and attempted to have “ME” put on Administrative DUties……….for “MY CONDUCT”???????? I have gotten all good evaluations, absolutely not one SINGLE derrogatory, discriminatory, bad….counseling. ?????…………..3 days AFTER the UNION comes to talk with my department?….and then ALL OF A SUDDEN?……………..I am not even fit to work there?……REALLY???? WHAT……..has taken them SO LONG. It is CUT AND DRY!….as evident as anything exactly what they have done. And they want me to MEDIATE?…………..I WANT THEM TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. WHAT THEY TRIED TO DO. PERIOD. It WAS and IS…ILLEGAL……..FEDERALLY…CIVILLY…and against the AFGE/UNION Master Agreement we have here at Bay PInes. This is my 4th week sitting in the library and not being told ANYTHING. Falling, tripping, researching myself. I have called Congressman RIck Scott, he deferred me to the EO, Veterans Admin, and so forth. I have called the Tampa Bay Times, they will not do anything until a decision has been made. I have gone to my Union Rep and he can’t or won’t tell me much, I have gone to EO/ORM and they press for “MEDIATION”. I have contacted two lawyers now. FELSC (Federal Employees Legal Services Center) to speak with a lawyer there. THey specifically speacialize in Federal Law and EO issues. I am waiting for someone to call me back. EO/ORM has set a tentative date for me to sit and “mediate” with my Department Chief. June 12th, 25th, 26th. I have read and studied all I can, and will continure to do so. I am scared. I am sick to my stomach. I am not educated in this area, the laws, the terminology. I feel as if I am a lamb going to slaughter. My coworkers are telling me that my supervisor and direct coworker that I had went to EO about for the hostile work environment are both talking about getting a contract worker or the person that retired to come back in to fill my position. WHile I sit here in the library?…………………it is completely and totally amazing to me. As an employee to be treated this way. As a Veteran?…..(shaking my head)…………..and……………..I am a patient…………………here at Bay PInes. 30% disabled. My husband just retired Feb 28th Army, my brother retired Navy, now works for Dept. Homeland Security in D.C., another brother was in the Marines, another brother did time in the ARMY also. My dad and step dad were both ARMY. It is absolutely….MIND BOGGLING to me………..that THIS……….is happening………….to me. Incredible to watch how the “MACHINE” is working. My step daughter graduates high school this weekend, 18 MAY 2013. She has enlisted Active Duty ARMY, she ships out to basic, in August, Ft. Sill Oklahoma, AIT in Ft. Sam Houston, Tx. Veterinary Technician. This is just too much to wrap my head around. Yes, retaliation. THey had tried to get me to “quit”. I tried and still continue to try to take all the proper channels and steps to correct the situation. And I feel as if I am being persecuted. For simply trying to “fix” a broken sytem, from my immediate work office, to my department, now to the Bay Pines campus…….it just seems to keep getting more and more out of control. It seemed like such a simple “fix”…..a little training, classes, getting me and my coworker on same sheet so to speak. And my direct line supervisor just continued to entertain my coworkers actions over and over and over. It is amazing that from that?…it has morphed into this unrecognizable thing. Amazing. Today is 16 MAY 2013. My name is Linda S. Madero, ARMY veteran, patient, employee at Bay Pines V.A. hospital. “L”oyalty, “D”uty, “R”espect, “S”elfless Service, “H”onor, “P”ersonal Courage. HOO-AHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can take the girl out of the ARMY…….but you will NEVER…take the ARMY out of the girl.

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Tony September 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm

The Bay Pines VA Medical Center makes it a practice to harass and retaliate. It happens on a regular, if not a daily basis to good employees. Bay Pines have trully bad leaders; they promote and hire bad employees to support their cause. This hospital’s leadership does not care about patient care, that is secondary priority. Their first priority is lining their pockets with bonuses etc. The hospital has received the Carey Awards for Excellence. The same “award” was given to many other VA hospitals, but what does the award really mean? It means that the former director, who was there when the hospital received the awards, was friends with the panel that bestowed the award. No Carey Award has been given to the hospital since his retirement on April Fools day 2011. It was his administration who strongly enforce the harrassment/retaliation at Bay Pines. Many of his administrators are still there today doing the same dirty deeds, and advising the new director who is taking their advise. One has gone to DC to take a higher level position in a new VA department. Why aren’t these people punished with terminations, when Bay Pines is consistantly paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even millions in harrassment, discrimination, hostile work environment and retalliation cases? Why are tax payers and veterans allowing these “leaders” to blow their money when our country is in financial crisis, and vets desperately need good medical care. Think about it- bad employees can’t give vets good medical care because they do not care about the vets, and many are vets themselves. Good employees are harassed because they complain about the treatment given to vets or the safety of the vets. Good employees are always trying to cover their backs. Bad and unskilled employees will never give good care because they do not want to and do not know how to give good care. Why are bad employees protected? Because they protect bad leadership. When vets say they get the best medical care at Bay Pines, I laugh because I know 100% they can get much better care. If only you knew what was really going on behind close doors. It is amazing that veterans and political leaders have failed to address this issue with Bay Pines.

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